One-Act Play Festival at Dorset features five works

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DORSET — They are typically much shorter. Their casts often modest in numbers. The storylines focused for maximum impact in a smaller package.

Welcome to one of the staples of the theater: the one-act play, courtesy of The Dorset Players. This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the Players will host their 14th annual one-act festival, covering the range of comedy and drama of four different set pieces, as well as an improvisation, or "improv" group performance.

Local attorney Kevin O'Toole will direct one of the plays, "Sorry, Wrong Number," by Lucille Fletcher. O'Toole, who is also a co-sponsor of the weekend along with Express Copy, said the one-act play is a unique opportunity on many levels for all involved.

"Generally, one-acts fall into two categories," O'Toole said. "Clever ideas that cannot be sustained in a full-length production and complete stories that simply do not require more time to tell. 'Sorry, Wrong Number' is an example of the latter."

The piece, O'Toole said, originally was performed as a radio play in 1943, with Agnes Morehead, (later Endora on the TV show "Bewitched"), in the role of Mrs. Elbert Smythe Stevenson, an invalid woman confined to her bed, who becomes increasingly frantic as the story progresses.

"It was attractive to me because I had not directed a suspenseful play in years," O'Toole said. "With essentially only one actor, it would present a challenge to flesh out a character on the stage, over five pages of dialogue, in an interesting way."

O'Toole explained that the actress Lynn Marcus accepted his challenge to portray a "not particularly likeable woman, an invalid from a patrician background who is faced with a life and death situation."

Accepting such a challenge from a director involves an actor going through some paces, according to Sherry Kratzer, who directed "I'm Herbert," by Robert Anderson, in a past Players one-act festival.

"Anyone volunteering to take on a one-act is welcome to either present a script, ask for suggestions, or search through the hundreds of possibilities the Dorset Players have in their collection," Kratzer said. "Unlike full-length plays, one-act auditions allow actors to read for different roles in different pieces, all of which are directed by different directors. It's rather daunting for the actors as well as challenging."

Kratzer noted that after the actors leave the room, the directors convene to fill roles.

"This isn't too dissimilar to making picks for a football draft," Kratzer said. "Of course, they are free agents, so at the end of the day it's the actors who decide which role or roles they'll take if offered more than one."

The five performances are as diverse their numbers suggest. Along with the improv group, directed by Todd Hjelt, and "Sorry, Wrong Number," O'Toole's offering, three other works headline the festival.

"He Said, She Said," by Alice Gerstenberg, features Zoe Grigsby, Erin Rachel, Joseph Mozer, and Martha Jo Perkins, and is directed by Dom Degnon. The story finds Barbara and Walter, co-narrators, showing the timeline of love from caveman beginnings throughout the ages, all while an ensemble cast brings humor and action onto the stage.

"Wanda's Visit," by Christopher Durang, stars Dawn Goetz, Aidan Kennedy, Tom Norton, and Natalie Philpot, and is directed by Richard Grip. Jim and Marsha's banal marriage is interrupted when Jim's madcap high school girlfriend comes for a visit.

"Talking Cure," by Ethan Coen, rounds out the program. Cast members are improv director Hjelt, Chris Kenney, Bob Stack, and Jack Workman. Direction is by Peter Van Haverbeke. The play is set in a mental ward, with a patient interviewed by his psychiatrist. The patient committed violence at a post office, and he's not biting at any attempt at therapy.

Considering the upcoming slate of shows for the event, Dorset Players past president and this year's festival producer Lynne Worth said that the one-act festival was started to afford fledgling actors and directors an opportunity to "spread their wings in a shorter format."

Worth added that audiences have taken to the set-up in the past, and expects the same energy this year, which begins and ends on stage.

"Some of the returning actors find their comfort zone in short plays and newbies can get their sea legs before going on to longer roles," Worth said. "There is something thrilling about being part of a company of actors, costumers, stage managers and tech people who come together to make magic, if only for three or four brief performances."

The 14th Annual Dorset Players One-Act Festival will take place on Fri., March 31, and Sat., April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 2 at 2 p.m. at the Dorset Playhouse, 104 Chaney Rd. For more information: 802-867-5570 or dorsetplayers.org.

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