With a one-act play that featured a cement Bertie Bloomer birthday cake, neurotic delivery man with melting feet, and an apartment resident who just wanted to watch some football on the last Sunday before his life changes forever, playwright Laura Lorussa took top honors at last night's Second Annual Laboratory Theater 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge. Titled The Hall: Last Sunday, the 12 minute 45 second vignette sparkled with snappy dialogue, rib-splitting one liners and even a little song and dance number that brought down the house.
Besides Lorusso, playwrights Carmen Crussard, Char Loomis, Taylor Adair Nave and Mike Tomes accepted the Lab Theater's challenge to write, direct and put on a 10-15 minute play in a scant 24 hours from start to finish. The quintet arrived with blow up mattresses, toiletries and laptops under arm at 8:00 p.m. Friday night (no Art Walk for them), had until 11 a.m. on Saturday to complete their scripts. They did not get to meet the four actors that Artistic Director Annette Trossbach and Stella Ruiz assigned to them until 1:00 p.m., when the playwrights morphed into directors who had to school, rehearse and help their thespians learn their lines in just seven short hours.
But when the lights came up on the first performance at 8:00 last night, the five playwright/directors and their 20 actors were ready, able and eager to entertain the sold out Lab Theater crowd.
Carmen Crussard churned out a play about a sleezeball con artist out to swindle a vacuous aspiring actress looking for publicity shots, but who was outwitted in the end by a teenage friend or family member who absconds with all the money. Taylor Adair Nave produced dark, disturbing comedy noir with a surprise ending about a girl (appropriately portrayed by Kathleen Moye) who exacts revenge on some poor classmate who embarrasses her by drawing attention to the fact that the French novel she's pretending to read to impress her dishy professor is upside down. Mike Tomes created an edgy story about a 14-year-old girl with aspirations of going to college so she can become a social worker who melts the heart of a cranky disabled vet with AIDS as she tries to get him to answer a survey questionnaire she needs for her college application. And Char Loomis won the Audience Choice award for a story about a young lover who returns from the French Quarter in New Orleans with the ghost of child attached to him after he leaves a haunted tour before the guide closes the portal to the other side.
The panel of judges scored each production based on technical, artistic and overall merit. In addition to factors such as creativity, plot coherence, character development, and the vignette's potential for being expanded into a longer piece, each playwright was judged on how well they incorporated the props and prescribed lines they were given and how effectively their play utilized the set, which depicted a cordoned-off hallway in a decrepit building somewhere in time.
Lorusso has been an active member of the local theater community for the past ten years. She has starred with the Naples Players in several shows and toured with a local comedy show, Joey and Maria's Comedy Italian Wedding. This fall, she wrote and co-directed Afterlife of the Rich and Famous for Let's Put On a Show Productions in Naples. Although Afterlife was her first play, it certainly will not be her last ... if the critical acclaim she received from last night's judges and audience is any indication.
The judges were particularly taken by the melting feet personality trait that she ascribed to her delivery boy character, who suffered from a debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by encounters with children of any age, size or demeanor. "I've known some people with anxiety disorders," she explained to the panel and audience after the performance, "and one said his feet would get really hot, like they were melting." The description stuck, and Laura employed the visual gag to perfection in her play.
In a stroke of verisimilitude, Lorusso's male lead also suffered from child-related anxiety of his own. "My wife is about to spit one of those out from between her legs any day now," he laments, "and this is the last Sunday I'll ever have to watch football in peace and quiet," a line which gave rise to the play's subtitle.
The Laboratory Theater of Florida is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which is dedicated to the promotion of the performing arts, through live performance, education, community outreach, experimentation and the development of ensemble work. The company features ensemble productions, produces classic works, takes artistic risks and features and challenges local performers of various skill levels. Stay up to date with its news and events on Facebook and Twitter @LabTheaterFL. For more information, please call 239-218-0481. The theater is located at 1634 Woodford Ave. Fort Myers, 33901.