Stage stuffers
Holiday show bursts with snappy mini-plays, a few sourballs
LAWSON TAITTE Theater Critic  
Published: December 7, 2001A 10-minute play needs a strong idea. A useful gimmick can be even better - but gimmicks can backfire.

Ground Zero Theater Company opened another showcase for area playwrights, "Christmas at Ground Zero," Thursday at the Bath House Cultural Center. The 10 short pieces, all on holiday themes, maintained a high standard - but some of the most memorable ones grew out of the most striking premises.

James Venhaus' The First Christmas, for instance, depicts former spouses decorating Christmas trees in their separate new digs. A single fir stands in for both as the man and woman decorate in their own fashions and complain about the other to an invisible friend. The symmetry keeps the play crisp and tight.

Minor Revelation at first seems gimmicky in a bad way. A first-century prophet is having very negative visions of a creature who sounds very like Santa Claus. But Reg Platt's piece turns out to be reverent in a backhanded kind of way and very, very clever.

You can have too few gimmicks, or too many. The lack of a strong idea undermines Jim Tyler Anderson's Iggy & Louis, a vignette about two homeless people. You can't redo The Lower Depths in 10 minutes.

Max Langert's Unwrapped, about a pair of gift-wrappers in a busted relationship, never quite lets us onto to its premise. Alfred Hitchcock would have called the object of such a wild goose chase a McGuffin.

Vicki Caroline Cheatwood's After Lunch, the only piece commissioned specifically for the program, has two gimmicks, neither effective. It was natural for a company named Ground Zero to want a piece dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks this year, but this one doesn't work.

A couple of the short plays manage to transcend their rigorous time limitations. David Gunderson's Gift Boxing packages a fine-grained study of three wealthy Dallas women very neatly.

Erik B. Knapp's Wonderful Life has an idea strong enough to be called a gimmick, as well as a couple of unexpected revelations. But it's really more about character and emotion. An elderly man is watching the classic Frank Capra movie in an old theater - with a bomb attached to his belt. A surprisingly sympathetic police negotiator forges a real bond with him in his attempts to talk the old man down. Chapman Locke and Jeff Fenter turn in wonderfully subtle performances here. But then director Cynthia Hestand's nine performers all have chances to shine.

"Christmas at Ground Zero: 2001," presented by Ground Zero Theater Company at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive at Northcliff, Thursdays through Saturdays through Dec. 22, with an additional performance Wednesday, Dec. 12. Tickets $10 to $12. Call 214-943-5120 or go to www.groundzerotheater.org.

PHOTO(S): (VERNON BRYANT/Staff Photographer)

Carolyn Wickwire and Chapman Locke are a pair of homeless people in Iggy & Louis, one of the 10-minute plays in "Christmas at Ground Zero" at the Bath House Cultural Center.

Copyright 2001 The Dallas Morning News