I was pleased to see a good crowd of both women and men at Friday night’s “Pandora Showcase” presented by the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company — mostly young professionals, but some with several more years of life and theater-going under their belt. “Showcase 1,” which will be presented again Fri, Nov. 18, runs about 2 1/2 hours and includes five short works.
The venue — a small theater inside the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts — is intimate and polished. Clever song choices played before and after each “Pandora” work enhance each piece while tying them all together. Several of the plays share common themes — identity, relationships, destiny and the travail of making art.
The first is a sweet look at a young professional’s visit with her elderly grandmother and two aunts, but I prefer a tad more dysfunction in my on-stage families. I readily admit to being skewed forever by the biting combination of real life and Estelle Parson’s performance in “August: Osage County.” So “Family Recipes” wasn’t my favorite thing on the “Pandora Showcase” menu.
I found the second work, titled “Me,” infinitely more enchanting. It’s the tale of a writer who stumbles into a room where a sort of future self, her destiny, awaits. They banter back and forth about the relative merits of knowing, or not knowing, what’s coming down the road. The play ponders a serious question without pontificating and the actors deliver a solid performance.
To the same degree that “Family Recipes” feels a bit flat, the third play in “Showcase 1″ feels somewhat frenetic. “Seeking Destiny” seems to be asking one central question: “If a hand is offered, would you take it?” But other questions flying too far afield dilute the focus of the work, and it would benefit from additional editing of ideas. The play left me wondering whether poetry might be the better vehicle for this particular vision.
The fourth work, titled “The Procedure,” is a playful look at medical bureaucracy with a brief foray into the politics of health insurance. The audience rewarded each actor’s prowess in physical comedy with genuine laughter. I’d love to see this playwright string together a series of similar works treating other political topics of the day.
The final piece in “Showcase 1″ was far and away my favorite. I don’t know how plays make their way from Arizona to L.A., Chicago or NYC, but “Prism” deserves to start that journey. It’s an honest, unflinching look at what each person brings to the therapeutic relationship. It’s funny beyond belief, with writing honed to near perfection.
Playwright Debra Rich Gettleman performs one of two roles in “Prism,” which functions well with both therapist and client characters. But it’s also easy to imagine “Prism” as a one-woman play depicting only the woman talking to her therapist. Audience reactions to the work made clear the fact that Gettleman “gets it” in the therapy department.
Gettleman’s “Prism” reminds me of “No Child” by Nilaja Sun, but with psychotherapy rather than education the topic du jour. I asked Gettleman after Friday’s “Pandora Showcase” just how many plays she’s written, because she’s cleary got a gift for it — but counting doesn’t seem to be her thing.
Maybe plays are like children and it’s hard to pick a favorite. Still, Gettleman’s got an awfully precious baby on her hands with “Prism.” I can’t wait to watch it grow.
Coming up: When couples collide, This little piggie…