I’m one of the last to take my seat in the front row in UW Tacoma’s small Cherry Parkes studio, in the front row as promised. There is not a stage, but a concrete floor surrounded by the audience and stacks of props sitting in the corner. Tangled in the metal spaghetti above us were the sort of dim bulbs you would find in a Cracker Barrel, and a projector shined a title onto the prop room door: “365 Days/365 Plays” by Suzan-Lori Parks. Two minutes after the doors close, some of the cast wanders in on their phones and take up seats with the audience until another member informs them it’s time to begin.
That’s the sort of bit that drove most of what followed. Under the direction of local director Marilyn Bennett, 30 plays were selected from Parks’ work and put on in an elaborately fast fashion. The first began as viewers were still trickling in, and it was over as soon as they sat down. With calculated movement, the actors quickly stepped away and the sound technician cued in the noise of a busy city street. The title of the next play, “Jaywalking,” projected onto the prop room door and two more cast members stepped in for a two-to-four-minute skit. Rinse and repeat.
The draw for general audiences will probably come down to the handling of space in such a limited area, because it was done beautifully. I had witnessed cast and crew rehearsing these movements and I was happy to see the hard work had paid off. As for the plays themselves, 30 is a lot to take in, especially at lightning speeds. Most could follow along but there were some that went by so quickly I was still trying to process what I had just seen before the next one began. However, that’s not so much the fault of the production as it is Parks’ writing.
Another unfortunate side effect of adapting her work is that the skits often seemed more like an opportunity for the participating cast to act zany than actually saying anything meaningful. I was left confused where I felt like I should’ve been laughing or applauding by the end of each one. That may be the fault for misreading the purpose of the skits, but from the look on some of the faces in the audience, I wasn’t the only one.
Thirty plays are also a lot for an actor/ actress to juggle. Being a collection of community actors, UW alumni and students, many participants are not actors by trade. Characters are played and replayed in different skits with little change in tone or mannerism, but there are performances that stand out.
“The Original Motherf***er” stars Jeff Salazar and Emily Cohen in an outrageously funny yet sobering take on the classic tale of Oedipus, while the former shows Salazar’s great dynamic emotional range interacting with Cassie Fastabend in “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Part One.” Then there are great physical performances undertaken by working actor Jack House and actress Kristen Moriarty, who put their all into the roles given.
That’s not to say the rest of the cast didn’t either. All of them did admirable jobs working through the conditions laid out at their proverbial doorstep, as did the crew operating outside the spotlight. It’s a tremendous undertaking to tackle 30 plays in the span of a single evening, and for what was accomplished I would declare a decisive win for Bennett and Company. I can’t wait to see more.