Carrboro ArtsCenter’s “Redbird” is a festival of new one-acts by North Carolina playwrights. Although given no limits on subject matter, four of the five playwrights chose to adapt works by living North Carolina authors, doubling this tribute to our state’s rich literary resources.
The festival is in two parts. The three-play program begins with Jane Holding’s clever adaptation of Allan Gurganus’ “Saints Have Mothers.” Holding plays Jean, whose teenage daughter Caitlin, a selfless do-gooder, has volunteered to teach reading in Africa. Jean is on a ferry to Ocracoke to get over events that transpired during Caitlin’s African adventures. Holding’s timing and brash characterization produce repeated guffaws as she expresses Jean’s frustration at being continually eclipsed by Caitlin and Jean’s embarrassment over a major misinterpretation of events.
Fred Chappell’s short story “Linnaeus Forgets” imagines how the famous Swedish scientist gained new insights into his taxonomic descriptions during a dream. Playwrights Marianne Gingher and Debby Seabrooke, along with director Greg Hohn, rework the piece as a raucous vaudeville with humorous songs (by Sam Gingher), puppets and animated videos. The sketch-like piece retains the story’s core points but emphasizes the performers and creative team.
Michael A. Smith does a fine job adapting Nancy Peacock’s novel “Life Without Water,” a loving memoir of growing up in late 1960s by now-grown Cedar, conceived by her mother, Sarah, during that free-love era. Director Tom Marriott gets nuanced performances from Jane Allen Wilson (Cedar) and Marcia Edmundson (Sarah) as they filter memories through different lenses.
The second program begins with Dana Coen’s “Property,” an intriguing story about a couple leaving the rat race and becoming farmers. The play darkly intensifies as shifting dynamics among the pair and a local sheep farmer reflect differing ideas of ownership. As director, Coen draws well-rounded performances from Alex Thompson and Melanie Rio (the couple) and Brandon Rafalson, but the script has too many short scenes that break up dramatic flow.
Howard L. Craft’s impressive adaptation of David Cecelski’s “The Fire of Freedom” gives Jade Arnold a star vehicle playing Abraham Galloway, the real-life slave turned Union spy during the Civil War. Arnold applies his well-established energy and commitment to portraying the harrowing and inspiring incidents in Galloway’s life, aided by Chaunesti Webb’s action-filled direction.
Many estimable artists are left out of this brief overview, but all contribute to a worthy programming idea that should become a regular ArtsCenter feature.
What: Redbird Festival of One-Act Plays
Where: ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro
When: 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday –plays by Coen and Craft; 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. March 22 – plays by Holding, Gingher and Seabrooke, and Smith.
Info: 919-929-2787 or artscenterlive.org