Last summer, when local playwrights Donna Hoke and Matthew Crehan Higgins launched the inaugural version of Buffalo United Artists’ short-play festival, they received some 200 submissions. For its second version, now playing in the BUA Theatre, that number shot up to 300.
It must have been grueling work to cull through so many submissions, but the results are nothing short of extraordinary. The plays on stage, each of which has some gay or lesbian subject matter and happily hews to tried-and-true formulas, pack surprising emotional range, humor and sensitivity into 10 compact packages.
The evening begins with a gem called “Partners” by EM Lewis of Santa Monica, Calif., and directed by Victoria Perez. It’s a vignette featuring a female police officer (Caitlin Baeumler Coleman) who wants to introduce her gruff work partner (Kevin Craig) to her skeptical life partner (Jessica K. Rasp). Things go less smoothly than hoped, but more hilariously than expected.
Next up is the beautiful “Clink,” by New York City-based playwright Bo List and directed by Marc Sacco. It’s a look into a certain booty call situation between a “straight” man played by Kurt Erb and his lovelorn hookup, brought to believable life by Kevin Craig. The interplay between these two gifted actors is utterly credible.
“Wingman,” by Eli Effinger Weintraub of Minneapolis and directed by Rasp, gives us Alisse Sikes as a frumpy young woman trying to recover from a breakup. Coleman is her overbearing mother, given to passing out business cards to any woman who wanders past the bar. It’s a fine little comedy, schmaltzy in the best possible sense of the word.
Candace Perry’s overwritten “Twenty Years,” directed by Higgins, is a surprisingly involved drama featuring two couples (Craig and Sacco, Sikes and Coleman) tentatively courting one another for a co-parenting arrangement. The performances, much more than the writing, make this piece tick.
Higgins and Hoke teamed up to write “Kissing 101,” a clever vignette directed by Sacco in which a perennially bad kisser (Perez) takes lessons from self-styled kissing expert played charmingly by Erb.
In “Are You Married?” by Joan Lipkin of St. Louis, things turn serious for a minute as Sikes’ character launches into a tortured interior monologue over a seemingly routine medical treatment that becomes far more complicated because of her sexuality.
Lisa Ludwig directs Denver-based playwright Josh Hartwell’s “A Different Client,” a bizarre piece featuring Erb as an escort and Craig as his temporary employer who wants Erb to use his talents to strange and somewhat unsettling ends.
It wraps up with Michael Trottier’s riotously funny and eventually very dark play “The New American Sweethearts,” directed by LaValley. Sacco and Erb play a pair of actors and roommates trying to make it in Hollywood. When the straight roommate lands a job playing a flamboyantly gay character on a hit TV series, the other hitches his wagon to that particularly odd star and rides it to somewhere totally unexpected.
This collection of plays is one of the best I’ve seen on a Buffalo stage in recent years. No matter your tastes in theater, it’s sure to offer up something you’ll enjoy.