With its spiritual themes and provocative questions, the First Malibu International Festival of One-Acts offers a series of original, often compelling works that defy religious convention.
The two-part festival at Malibu Stage Co. is the brainchild of a group of industry directors, writers and producers, several of whom who are members of Malibu’s St. Aidan’s Church Better Entertainment League (SABEL), who rallied behind the idea that “drama can reflect spiritual or moral themes and still be entertaining.”
“We wanted to do something positive,” said one of the festival’s writer/directors Gy Waldron, who, among numerous credits, created the television series “Dukes of Hazard.”
“We [normally] write about sex and murder,” said Waldron, “and we said, let’s try and do something that has a positive, universal theme.”
Playwrights and directors from Canada, New York and Los Angeles were invited to participate in the festival. Some responded to SABEL’s industry-placed ads asking, “Is your best script in a drawer?”
The one caveat to getting a play entered, said Waldron, was “the plays had to [include] one person positively influencing somebody else, or [reflect] the feeling of God or religion–we didn’t care what religion. We have Jewish playwrights, Catholics, some atheists. We are writing about our doubts.”
“All of us like to get back to theater,” said Waldron, noting the actors, writers and directors volunteered their time and talents for the festival.
Tickets are sold through local sponsoring churches and synagogues, which will share the festival’s returns, including St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church, Malibu United Methodist Church, Malibu Presbyterian Church, First Church of Christ Scientist, and the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue.
Thematically, the most sophisticated and best written of the first round of one-acts comes from Toronto playwright Drew Carnwath in his work, “The Ballad of the Battle Between Power and Chance,” skillfully directed by seasoned theater and film veteran Paul Almond. Set in a church on New Year’s Eve, a conflicted priest, played with the right touch of compassion and longing by Michael McCoy, comes to grips with questions of faith after discovering a hapless, if feisty woman, wonderfully captured by L.A. newcomer Jamie Weiss, who is on her own journey for answers.
“I approached this play as a spiritual [piece], because the same issues would arise whether they were Muslim or Christian,” said Carnwath, visiting from Toronto. “The character, Chance, nails it,” he added, “when she says they are looking for something outside of themselves.”
“I had these two characters in my brain for a screenplay, but I hadn’t yet worked it out yet” said Carnwath. “This script-call was the perfect impetus to get it on stage.”
“Teddy Bear,” also one of the more polished of the six plays, is written by Barbara Wanbaugh and directed by 50-year television veteran Michael Preece, perhaps best known for his 10-year reign in helming “Dallas.”
Preece said the one-act festival is his first experience in directing theater and admits, “I have much more respect for actors,” adding, “I would love to do this next year. It’s a different world.”
Set in a small town in Ohio, “Teddy Bear” tells the story of a mischievous young boy left handicapped from a trucking accident, which claimed his father’s life, and the unlikely, but rewarding relationship he forges via CB radio with a softhearted trucker nicknamed Big Red. Jonathan Breck plays the trucker and 11-year-old Malibu resident Tam Visher convincingly portrays the boy.
Waldron wrote and directed “The Temple Rocks!” in the first series of one-acts, and “All Hallow’s Eve” in series two, scheduled to begin next week.
Set in Jerusalem in A.D. 31, “Temple Rocks” features Jesus, played by Bill Thomas, and two of his apostles, Peter and Bartholomew, played respectively by Byron Jenson and Brodie Greer, who are largely conflicted over Jesus’ seemingly “ordinary” appointments for the 12 apostles. For a short time, the two get to query Jesus on the reasons behind those choices.
Thematically, the play is far more compelling than its execution, which hits home the point that despite appearances, everyone has the potential for greatness.
With its French flavor, “The Game,” written by Frank Canino, directed by Mark Bruce Rosin, and convincingly performed by Elizabeth St. Clair, addresses the game of wit, imagination and daring that allows a young French girl to escape Nazi domination during World War II.
The first week of one-acts also included “World Without End,” a 10-minute drama dealing with the ill-perceived end-times for a broken farm family, written by Bill Harrar and directed by Michael Preece, and “Quite Contrary,” a 16th century comedy set in an English monastery, written by David Copelin and directed by Stuart Cooper.
See B2 Calendar for show times and ticket information.