What do a prison, a mortuary, a space camp and a high school all have in common? They all have graduations. And if there are graduations, then there are graduation parties.
Thus is the theme of this year’s premiere of eight 10-Minute Plays, which opened last weekend at the annual Heartland Theatre Company festival. It is well worth your time to see the final eight, which out of the over 200 submissions made it from page to stage this year.
There’s much to be said for the 10-minute format. The characters and conflict at hand are quickly established, and there’s often a little twist before the lights cross-fade into another universe, where the variation on a theme plays itself a new tune.
In the first playlet of the evening, “A Class Act," two high school students contrast vastly different experiences at the same school. Then in “Never Too Late," it’s the parents of the graduates that compare notes.
Gayle Hess, a Heartland veteran, seamlessly goes from portraying an angst-ridden mom to a cool and confident GED teacher in a prison in “The Graduation Party." Daniel O’Connor and Aaron Thomas each give nuanced performances as her two young students, who have found themselves incarcerated.
Michael Farca sensitively portrays a kid who really wants to fit in, but doesn’t pick up on social cues in “Wax Fruit." Felysha Walker is spunky as the girl who understands these issues, because of her own struggles.
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Act II begins with the powerful “The Truth about the Lemmings” in which two parents bicker about whether or not to attend their son’s graduation. Jennifer Maloy gives a heart-wrenching performance as a mother torn between meeting her own needs or those of her husband.
“Space Cat Graduation” is a total hoot. Vicky Snyder is a riot as Mittens, not to be outdone by Ann B. White as Commander Frisky. Emmanuel Jackson is hilarious as Merle, the Raven, then plays a completely different character in “Cakes and Corpses," where graduates of a mortuary school ponder their futures.
In the final piece, Dave Lemmon pulls our heartstrings, and puts the capstone on a thoroughly enjoyable evening in “Pulling The Envelope” as he portrays a disillusioned teacher who learns a lesson at, where else, a graduation party.
Weiss is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph