You step off the tour bus, the smell of exhaust replaced first with fresh air, then with the sugary smell of grapes. You sit around a bar with a wine glass that gets filled every minute or so. You and your fellow travelers and tasters swirl around a sip of Chardonnay or Riesling, ponder over it for a few seconds and then, guided by the sommelier behind the bar, you scribble down the rating of your first drink, 1–10, and perhaps add a comment or two on the little notepad the winery provided. Your glass gets filled with another half an inch of wine, and you’re given a piece of bread to cleanse your palate before the next liquid surprise comes up for both enjoyment and judgment.
At the end of the first round, the sommelier asks you which wines you like the most. You start round two, feeling relaxed and a little flush. In the wine cellar you are offered a wide range, from sweet to dry. You like half of them, and after another set or two of tasting and Italian bread, you make your final decision. This process continues until you are ready to buy your favorites. You and all the other happy tourists leave the winery, good and tight, wobbling back onto the bus, with a case of your favorite wines.
You are reminded of that wine tasting when you enter the standing room only InterAct Theatre for the second annual One Minute Play Festival. For the price of $20 you are provided with 90 different wines—and one big beautiful surprise at the end.
The festival, stylized as #1MPF, is hosted by InterAct’s artistic director Seth Rozin and conceptualized by Dominic D’Andrea—creator of the over 20 plus city festival series, spanning the U.S from New York to Los Angeles, and from Anchorage to Miami. The plays are broken into ten “clumps” of nine plays each, directed by a range of Philadelphia area directors, including, Nick Anselmo, Tina Brock, John Doyle, Mike Durkin, David O’Connor, and Daniel Student. This tasting could not exist without dozens of great and enthusiastic actors of all ages, experiences, and backgrounds.
The performance includes wines fermented from the minds of P. Seth Baur, James Christy, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Michael Hollinger, Ken Kaissar, David Robson, and Walt Vail. You are also served samples from many other fine winemakers who present drinks made of, pears, peaches, and plums. The wines range from sweet and funny to dry and serious—even the occasional sparkling wine is served.
The plays pour out of the InterAct bottle faster and more relentlessly than any wine tasting you have ever experienced. Unfortunately, no announcement is given about any of the plays you are about to see and, as a result, you squint and strain under the low lights to see which play by which playwright is listed next on your 90-title-extra-small-print-one-page handout.
In the beginning you might try to mark your favorite wines, but soon you are swept away by the flood of stimulating and at times terrifying offerings. After two hours, you may remember a handful of vignettes that manage to arrest and sober, for example: Carjacked by Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, where a would-be thief learns he cannot escape the maternal instinct of the car-owner, or Checklist by Renee Lucas Wayne where, in just 60 seconds, two mothers, one black one white, teach their sons how to drive. The juxtaposition is almost unbearable. Here the audience, used to laughter throughout the evening, almost chokes on silence.
After almost two hours the evening ends. You are drunk on excitement, face flush and hands raw from applause. Your head spins from having tasted 90 different one-minute plays. You stumble into the night, at the end of it all, not entirely sure what you have seen, not remembering everything so clearly, your mind hazy, you’re left not with a distinct appreciation for dozens of Philly playwrights, but a feeling that theatre in Philadelphia is not slapping the bag but rather popping the cork in celebration of its many vintages of diversity and creative spirits. [Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street] August 3-5, 2014, interacttheatre.org.
Extra: Recording of this year’s festival was just made available at http://howlround.com/livestreaming-the-2nd-annual-philadelphia-one-minute-play-festival. More archived video recordings from previous #1MPFs across the country, as well as many other theatre-related videos, are available online at http://www.howlround.tv.