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Many reasons to cheer for The Gift’s ‘TEN’ program

On the opening night of “TEN.2015,” a collection of 10 short plays and sketches that has become an annual ritual offering by The Gift Theatre, the company’s artistic director, Michael Patrick Thornton, explained why this admission-free, two-week showcase is so important to the company.

“It’s a conscious reminder to all of us at the start of every season of why we do what we do,” said Thornton. “And we put it all together, unpaid, and with a total of nine hours of rehearsal and one hour of tech for each show.”

‘TEN. 2015 ’

Recommended

When: Through Jan. 11

Where: The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee

Tickets: Free (reservations recommended)

Info: (773) 283-7071; gifttheatre.org

Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission

The result is impressive, and there is something truly spirit-raising about the sight of the 22 performers who gather onstage at the end of the show for a group bow. As might be expected, not every piece is a jewel, but there are plenty of semi-precious stones in this little theatrical necklace. Here is a brief look at them in order of their presentation:

THE CHILDREN”: Mat Smart introduces us to a young couple (neatly played by Jay Worthington and Rebekah Brockman) whose essential tastes (Sunday church-goer versus brunch-goer) differ, and whose future together might just depend on which baseball team they support. Director Tim Hopper and his actors put just the right charming edge on it all.

“PAPERLAND”: Jennifer Rumberger’s existential office drama, expertly directed by Sarah Gitenstein and performed by Kristen Johnson and Meg Harkins, is a genuine surprise, from the repeated snap of a stapler to its haunting ruminations about suicide. This is a fine look at the large and small things that can make life worth living (or giving up on).

“THERE IS NO MESSAGE IN THE MESSAGE”: Sean Graney has created an intriguing “orchestration” for two female voices (Brittany Burch and Alexis Atwell), plus an unheard third woman on a phone. Atwell arrives with a ton of luggage, expecting an intimate relationship as a result of a text message. Burch deftly juggles two conversations, and makes it clear Atwell is not welcome. Laura Baker directs.

ERROR 12 QUIMBY”: Ed Flynn’s play will serve as a wonderful comic balm for all those who depend on Internet technology but want as little as possible to do with the nuts and bolts of it as possible. Flynn has “orchestrated” computer code as two young guys in an office (deft work by Boyd Harris and Jason Huff) try to get to the bottom of a technical problem in this happily maddening and hilarious satire on “the programmer” subculture.

“NATURAL GAS”: Michael Patrick Thornton and Ed Flynn engaged in a bit of real, old-fashioned improv based on an audience suggestion and ended up riffing on the space-time continuum, the nature of light and more.

Michael Patrick Thornton in William Nedved’s “Welcome.”

WELCOME”: In this brilliant little solo work, written by William Nedved and performed to superb effect by Thornton, a ne’er-do-well stand-up comic in search of material for a sendup of an organization much like Scientology decides to do some undercover research. Full of exhilarating twists and turns, this is a keeper —  a piece sure to become an audition classic. Alexander Lane directed. Thornton is terrific.

“SWEAT EQUITY”: Laura Marks’ sickly twisted play might well become a cult classic for all those parents desperate to get their kids accepted into a top-ranked middle school. Alexandra Main plays a dominatrix-like headmistress who gives a withering reception to the efforts of a striver mother (Lauren Pizzi) eager to win favor for her daughter. A sick scenario, to be sure, but one rooted in all too much truth.

“BYSTANDER”: Ike Holter’s play, directed by Eric Weiss, and searingly performed by Linsey Page Morton and Sean Parris, seems to have come hot off the presses of recent stories about police brutality and race. It captures the encounter between a chic, white mother-of-a-bride (Linsey Page Morton), and a very handsome, well-dressed, crippled black man (Sean Parris). To say much more than that would be to ruin the surprise.

Linsey Page Morton and Sean Parris in Ike Holter's "Bystander."

Linsey Page Morton and Sean Parris in Ike Holter’s “Bystander.”

“giftLIT”: Representing The Gift’s storytelling program was Samantha Bailey in a zestily written and presented tale of a young black woman who is living the hipster life in Logan Square and pays a visit to her family in Georgia.

“THE LOOK OF HER”: David Rabe is the banner name on this program (the great playwright of “Streamers,” “Hurlyburly” and others), but this piece, directed by Thornton, is a hodgepodge that feels like the outline for a longer work. At its center are an unpleasant woman who seems to be approaching her end, and her caretaker daughter, who desperately wants to be loved and appreciated by the woman. Patrick Thornton has directed Sarah Jane Ashenhurst and Justine Serino, among others (who play the daughter’s husband, a priest and an arrogant doctor). Si Osborne, as the old woman’s son, is riveting in the powerful  soliloquoy about war that is the best part of this play. Rabe made a visit to the production last weekend.