Arts and Entertainment

One Act Fest returns to BPA: One for all, and all for one (act)

Nathan Whitehouse rehearses the role of Fritzie in “What I Meant Was,” one of the 2014 One Act Fest’s more serious offerings written by Craig Lucas, during a practice session in the rear annex of Bainbridge Performing Arts in preparation for the show’s upcoming premiere.     - Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review
Nathan Whitehouse rehearses the role of Fritzie in “What I Meant Was,” one of the 2014 One Act Fest’s more serious offerings written by Craig Lucas, during a practice session in the rear annex of Bainbridge Performing Arts in preparation for the show’s upcoming premiere.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

If variety is truly the spice of life, the world of Bainbridge Island theater is about to get downright zesty.

Variety is the primary order of the day in the 2014 One Act Fest, premiering at Bainbridge Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7.

Directed by island thespian Dinah Manoff of the Northwest Actors Lab, the festival showcases the very best talent Bainbridge has to offer in a selection of comedic and dramatic one-act plays from playwrights both familiar and obscure.

“This is the fourth one we’ve done,” Manoff said of the festival. “It started because all my students here, I wanted them to take everything they had learned and be able to get on stage. And because most of the productions here are musicals and some of the straight productions they do only have so many characters, I wanted to see if I could get every one of them on stage.”

She did.

The first One Act Fest’s combination of comedy and drama proved popular with theater audiences and set the tone for future festivals.

“It was pretty widely successful the first year so we’ve just continued to do it,” she said.

“Because the One Acts are comprised of short, short plays, those are just perfect for actors who haven’t been acting all that long to succeed in. They can really nail it in a short play,” Manoff said.

Manoff, whose own acting credits include roles in numerous feature films including “Grease” (1978), “Ordinary People” (1980), “Child’s Play” (1988), “Bloodhounds of Broadway” (1989) and others, has been an influential figure in the Bainbridge theatrical community since moving to the island nearly 10 years ago.

“When I moved here I didn’t have an intention of being part of theater here,” she said. “It found me. I was very lucky to have BPA to work at.”

This year’s festival lineup includes pieces by Shel Silverstein, Mark Harvey Levine, Jane Martin and many more, including two local playwrights.

“This time, we have two local writers,” Manoff explained, “Keiko Green and Warren Read. [Those were] plays I just fell in love with.”

Manoff said that the selection process for choosing which plays to feature actually begins in August, with rehearsals starting in October, and although no strict theme is set, one usually becomes apparent anyway.

“We start puzzle piecing together actors and plays and figure out who’s really right for what part and what play and which plays we really love and which actors fit,” she said. “This year we’ve gone into very dark comedy. We have a lot of dark comedy this session and, for me, that’s the kind of comedy that I really love because I love walking in the shadow and the light at the same time. It’s just a blast.”

Still, how is it possible to condense a whole story into one short act? Is there really any room for characters or narrative in such a small amount of time?

“I’m really devoted to exploring these little pieces as fully as if they were full-length pieces,” Manoff said. “The character work that’s done, the relationship it explores with the actors and the subtext it explores. We treat them very seriously. The difference between the One Act plays and a sketch like you should see on Saturday Night Live or a sketch show is that each of these pieces, even the ones that are a minute-and-a-half long, have a beginning, a middle and an end. The characters are affected and changed somehow throughout their short period of time on stage.”

The longest play in this year’s rotation is about 14 minutes, while the shortest (“Homework”) clocks in under two minutes.

Manoff said that there were no official time requirements established during the selection process, but that she eventually set a maximum limit of 20 minutes to keep the proper pace throughout the show.

“I have as short an attention span as my children do,” she laughed. “It’s perfect for me because I really like being able to bounce from play to play to play. When we first did the One Act, I was very excited about exposing the audience to lots of playwrights they might not have ever heard of and in a way where they can just get a tasty bite.”

Having worked on feature films in the country’s entertainment capitals, Manoff said she is continually impressed with the Bainbridge arts scene and considers herself fortunate to be part of it.

“Bainbridge is like the weirdest sweet spot for creativity,” Manoff said. “I pinch myself all the time that I get to be around so many talented people and still not live either in Los Angeles or New York.”

The One Act Fest is appropriate for ages 13 and up.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org, by phone at 206-842-8569 or in person at BPA (200 Madison Ave. North). The cost is $20 for adults and $15 for seniors, youth, military and teachers.

The show will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7 with a second show at the same time on Saturday, Feb. 8 and a matinee at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9.

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