By MIKE DUNHAM
The playbill for the 25th edition of “Alaska Overnighters,” presented this weekend at Alaska Pacific University’s Grant Hall auditorium, says “4 short plays each night.”
But on Saturday, there were five. Which is good, because the fifth, “Veritas,” by P. Shane Mitchell, was the most substantial of the lot, the one most likely to stick with the viewer for a long while.
The concept and staging are simple. Four commuters stand in a line waiting for a train, reading their iPhones and muttering headlines from sources ranging from Fox News and MSNBC to The Onion. One character breaks the spell by lamenting the isolation of the internet age and expressing a yearning to hear something honest, person to person. At first we think she may be addressing the audience, but one of the other commuters responds.
What he says is unvarnished truth, but it upsets her. “People always say they want to hear the truth,” he says. “But they only want to hear the truth that they want to hear.” Pleasant truths.
Bit by bit the others air their own unvarnished unpleasantries. There’s a reconciliation, of sorts, a glimmer of hope for humanity, but we’re left to wonder just how much of the truth can any of us handle?
The format of the “Overnighters” is to hand an author a theme and give them 12 hours to write a play, then give the cast another 12 hours to present the newly-minted creation before the live audience. It’s always hard to judge how much of the plays are written or at least formed in the playwright’s head before getting his or her topic and the layout of the program seemed to suggest that Mitchell’s theme was murder. If that’s right, it was only mentioned obliquely and was hardly the subject of the scrips. Regardless, “Veritas” is a pretty good stand-alone piece that bears seeing again, with or without the stunt of the 24 hour timeframe.
But the stunt is part of the show, and “Overnighters” has become a popular local theater event. A sell-out crowd was on hand. The other plays on Saturday included Janna Shaw’s “Sudden Death” (her theme was unexpected death) in which a man picking up his newspaper is first mugged then abused by a passer-by then assailed by a government agent in a plot that bordered on absurdism.
Dawson Moore drew the topic of miracle. The real miracle was that Moore made it into Anchorage from snowbound Valdes, a seven hour drive, he said, in which low visibility obliged him to poke along at 5 miles an hour in places. His “David’s One Miracle” involved cult leader David Koresh sharing with his followers the revelation that he was to breed children with the various females in the compound. Much of the dialogue time went to a song sung by Koresh (Dennis Cleary) while the other characters expressed their opinions of him, either as a “rock and roll Jesus come to save us all” or “not too snobby for a religious guy.” The lines were mostly funny until the very end when they reflected the dark hole of lost faith.
“Everything’s Just Paranormal Here,” Linda Billington’s reaction to her topic, a chance encounter, followed two erotic dancers as they entered a deserted house to record suspected ghosts. The line that may have received the loudest guffaw of the night was uttered by one of the presumed specters, David Cotton, whose supernatural status is complicated by, he says, having been turned into a cow by a witch, who confronts the terrified ghost hunters with a haunting “Moo!”
Carl Bright wrote “The Least Likely Villian” (sic) on the theme of least likely villain. Three suspects in a murder were interrogated by a police woman in an exchange of zingers that drew loud laughter. As far as the mystery goes, well, the title sort of tell you.
Four more plays are being written as I post this, on themes including a romance, betrayal and an unexpected visitor. You can see them tonight at Grant Hall, starting at 8 p.m.