A suicidal woman is persuaded from the edge of a subway platform. A biracial jazz musician attempts to pass for a white man in 19th-century Louisiana. A girl in search of love tries to find Mr. Right in a sea of losers on Match.com. Anything is possible during Midwinter Madness, the three-week-long festival of one-act plays that’s been heating up New York City’s off-off Broadway scene this month.
John Chatterton, a staple in New York City’s theater scene, conceived this year’s first annual Midwinter Madness Festival with a list of conditions for its participants: Any and every subject matter flies; production requirements must be minimal (i.e. participants bring their own props); the festival provides a press agent, venue manager, and lighting designer; and tickets cost $12 to $15. “I’ve always been a fan of one-act works,” Chatterton told Broadway World, “not only as a form of storytelling, but also because it gives playwrights a chance to see what they’ve got and gauge the audience reaction before taking it to the next level.” Chatterton has spent much of his life acting and writing for community theater. He started the now-defunct New York’s “oobr” magazine (off-off Broadway review) in 1993 and went on to found the annual Midtown International Theatre Festival in 2000, which is preparing for its 12th run this July.
Now, Chatterton’s giving emerging playwrights, directors, actors, and musicians the opportunity to showcase their talents during February’s 21-day Midwinter Madness extravaganza in 60 minutes or less. Each show puts on three separate performances of their one-acts and over two-dozen short plays are competing for the limelight and some cash prizes. Sure, there’s a bit of bread for the winners, but these plays are anything but potboilers—they are ardently composed by true theater lovers.
And it showed during Monday night’s debut performance of Hush: The Musical Review at Roy Arias Theater. Frizzi & Lazzi Theatre Company’s absurdist confection brings together four eccentrics in a VIP lounge at LaGuardia Airport during a snowstorm that has delayed all departures. Glued to his BlackBerry and impatiently awaiting his flight, a twitchy businessman named Othello is comically juxtaposed with a New Age meditation instructor, Georgia, who is content to wait out the delay studying her star-shaped, self-made “affirmations.” A bubbly stewardess cheerfully announces more postponements and flight cancellations, offering Champagne to the elite passengers before sneaking a few swigs herself. But Georgia can’t help overhearing Othello on his BlackBerry, plotting the murder of his adulterous ex-wife with an affable, rotund, and inept hit man, but a hit man nonetheless. The vengeance-seeking, obstinate businessman and peace preacher are soon forced into a farcical confrontation.
Each show puts on three separate performances of their one-acts and over two-dozen short plays are competing for the limelight and some cash prizes. Sure, there’s a bit of bread for the winners, but these plays are anything but potboilers— they are ardently composed by true theater lovers.
Despite their supporting roles, the young stewardess and Russian hit man are arguably the highlights of the show. Their sonorous voices and acutely nuanced performances earned the most praise from the audience at the debut of the musical, which is delivered in a string of predictable rhyming couplets, from Othello’s bitter take on life (“This horrible world may seem hard to survive, but everyone does it and I’ve got the drive!) to Georgia’s countering affirmations (“Take a chance! Take a chance! Let forgiveness be the key to some new romance!”). Were the show longer, the folksy rhymes could grow tiresome, but instead, they are perfectly in tune with Hush’s slapstick storyline. When the four characters line up on stage for a grand finale, with beaming smiles and arms outstretched to the audience as they sing, “We send love to you,” onlookers realize they mustn’t take Hush for anything more or less than what it is: a comical sketch of ordinary life gone awry, suffused with cornball optimism. And seemingly, that’s exactly the kind of distraction Midwinter Madness community theater companies and theatergoers are hoping for.
Lizzie Crocker is an editorial assistant at The Daily Beast. She has written for NYLON, NYLON Guys, and thehandbook.co.uk, a London-based website.