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10-Minute Play Festival 2011
Ann White, Lynda Straw and Rosemary Luitjens, from left, star in “How to Weed Your Garden,” one of the eight winning entries in this year’s “10-Minute Play Festival,” opening Thursday at Heartland Theatre Company in Normal. (Courtesy photo/GEMMA BILLINGS)

Like a newly-minted penny, Heartland Theatre's annual "10-Minute Play Festival," which opened to robust crowds last weekend, is all shiny and bright, as the eight never-before-performed plays are first presented before a live audience.

The unifying thread this year is "The Back Porch," with the one-acts all are played on a cozy, well-worn porch, delicately executed by scene designer Michael Pullin.

While all of the plays take place on the back porch, the overarching theme seems to be loss.

There's the loss of a daughter to marriage in "Crickets," skillfully written by Bloomington native Bruce Boeck.

Dave Lemmon is dynamic as the grumpy father of the bride, while Gayle Hess is excellent as his wife, who sees life's glass as half-full.

There's also the loss of a spouse in two of the entries.

In "Eleanor's Passing," a pair of friends console their grieving pal with creativity and compassion, while in "When She Danced," a father comforts his son by recalling how he won the heart of the free-spirited girl who later became mother and wife.

Loss of dignity is poignantly explored in "Colored Entrance Around Back," as a job interview is conducted on the back porch.

In "Bedtime Story," two lonely people ponder how they've lost sleep and the future of their illicit relationship in a very late-night conversation.

"How to Weed Your Garden," by Jerry McGee of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a hoot.

Olivia, played to the hilt by Lynda Straw, fears she is losing her husband to her longtime friend until the more levelheaded Louise, played by the fabulous Rosemary Luitjens, intervenes.

Ann White gives a heart-wrenching performance as a woman who has lost her faculties and is stricken with Alzheimer's in "Too Many Air Conditioners."

My personal favorite, "Don't Forget to Play My Numbers," is a very moving, yet laugh-out-loud play, written by Joe Strupek, another citizen of Bloomington, which explores loss from a surprising angle.

This year's festival is one of the best to date -- don't miss it.

Marcia Weiss is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph.

10-Minute Play Fest

Venue: Heartland Theatre Company, One Normal Plaza, Normal

Times and dates: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., July 23-25, July 1-2; 2 p.m. June 26

Cost: $6 to $12

Box office: 309-452-8709

Running time: 2 hr., including 15-min. intermission


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