Review of the Eighth Annual Aphra Behn Festival at SATE

    SATE’s Eighth Annual Aphra Behn Festival was presented on April 5, 6, and 7 at The Chapel. The company assembled an interesting evening of short new plays.

    SATE established the Festival in 2017 to provide growth opportunities for women interested in directing and writing for theater. The Festival now includes transgender and non-binary artists.

    To be considered for the most recent Festival, plays had to be submitted by December 11, 2023. To prime the pump of creativity, SATE set conditions for entrants to meet:

    • A theme of transformations
    • No more than three characters
    • No longer than 20 minutes
    • A reference to a fairytale/childhood story or character
    • A mention of a Shakespeare play or character
    • A magic trick
    • One of the classical elements (air, water, fire, and earth) used in excess
    • A moment of music from one of four specified songs
    • Incorporation of text created by Prison Performing Arts’ Spoken Word Artists in Vandalia, Missouri, who wrote poems that were based on the theme of transformation and inspired by fairy tales and children’s stories

    Four plays were chosen from among the entries.

    The The, written by Anne Valentino; directed by Michelle Hand

    The central character in The The is Allie Wheeler, who names properties for the Thisben hotel chain. The play is about her trip to Lost River, West Virginia, where the chain’s hotel is named “The Thisben.” Concerned about the difficulty of saying repeated “th” sounds, the corporate office sends Allie to the Lost River property to determine whether it should keep the “The.”

    Before Allie leaves, her husband scoffs at her new passion for photography, even though her camera was a Christmas present from him.

    The Thisben turns out to be an unnerving place where all the employees look alike and leaking water is pervasive. Allie’s visit is a trip down a rabbit hole, but she lands on her feet.

    The cast was excellent. Meghan Baker captured Allie’s frustration as she coped with her husband’s condescension and the weirdness at the hotel. Keating’s portrayal of the nearly identical hotel workers had a delightful impishness. They were all in on a joke that Allie was too rational to see. David Cooperstein wisely avoided caricature in his fine portrayal of Allie’s husband, Jason, whose condescension put Allie under great stress. The blocking and pacing were beautifully thought out in Michelle Hand’s direction.

    Left to Lose, written and directed by Stella Plein

    The main character in Left to Lose is radio host Ezra Wang, whose pronouns are he/they. Sometimes, Ezra is broadcasting, and sometimes he is speaking off mic. At the start, Ezra announces on the radio that a starship has exploded. Ezra’s private reaction to the tragedy is that they want to blow a bubble big enough to eclipse the moon. Without knowing why, Ezra refers to himself in the third person while off the air.

    Eventually, the reason for this puzzling behavior comes out. Ezra’s husband, Haoyu, died in the explosion. The ambitious, evocative play is about Ezra’s struggle to cope with the accident that left him shattered. Returning to the first-person pronouns at the end signals the beginning of Ezra’s coming to terms with the loss of Haoyu.

    Left to Lose was presented in a staged reading. A fuller staging might have made the reintegration of Ezra’s personality easier to follow. The commendable performers were Angela Chen as Ezra Wang and The Radio, Daniel Lee as The Public (which comments on the broadcast), and Ivy Liao as Haoyu.

    Run Run Run as Fast as You Can, written by Tessa Van Vlerah and Dylan Staudte; directed by Katherine Leemon

    The action in Run Run Run as Fast as You Can takes place at the meeting of a support group called Villains Anonymous. The attendees are all characters from fairy tales or parodies of fairy tales. Their desperate need for support was great fun in the performances by

    • Andre Eslamian as Limburger, the Stinky Cheese Man, who leads the group with forced cheerfulness that doesn’t last
    • LaWanda Jackson as Royal Pea, the princess kept awake by pea, who is as finicky and privileged as her story suggests
    • Sam Hayes as Sienna the Fox, who is not only sly but snarky
    The Croning, written by Margeau Steinau; directed by Abigail Greaser

    The characters in The Croning are three women of different ages: a maiden, a mother, and a crone. Or maybe they are one woman and her memories of herself at earlier ages. Either way, the characters participate in a ritual that will merge them into one being. The emotional journey of the three personas is vividly portrayed by Anna Rimar as the maiden, Katie Puglisi as the mother, and Jodi Stockton as the crone. They had a wonderful time in the dance party that concluded this play and the entire evening of 2024 Aphra Behn Festival plays.

    The Festival featured stage management by Mason Hunt, lighting by Erik Kuhn, costumes by Kayla Lindsay, graphic design by Dottie Quick, and photography by Joey Rumpell. The Festival’s coproducers were Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Joey Rumpell
    From the left, Allie (Meghan Baker) and the day-care director (Keating) performing a magic trick in
    The The.