Chelsea Players and Stonington Players each stage one-acts

If it's not a full-blown fad, it's at least a mini-trend. Nights of one-acts seem to be gaining traction in the region, and two local theater groups are producing their individual series of one-acts this weekend.

Chelsea Players stages "An Evening of Short One-Acts" - a follow-up to their debut round-up of one-acts last year - this weekend and next in Norwich.

The Stonington Players, meanwhile, are presenting the sixth version of its "Tables and Chairs."

So what's the advantage of a night of short plays? Well, Vic Panciera, Stonington Players president, notes that theatergoers get to see a variety of pieces, so if they don't cotton to one, they'll probably like the next. As for the cast and creative team, it's a more efficient process; they can run through a 10-minute piece several times during the course of just an hour, since each one-act rehearses individually.

Ken Lamothe - who is a founder, board member and treasurer of Chelsea Players - says it was a desire to bring in more directors that spurred his group to try a night of one-acts. And it did the trick, drawing some new directors and actors and bringing some former participants back into the fold. Like Panciera, Lamothe says acting in or directing a one-act is less of a commitment and that fact might nudge someone who is slightly interested into giving it a try.

Now, onto the shows themselves: Stonington Players' "Tables and Chairs" features short works chosen from playwright submissions. The current crop was pulled from those sent in last year, since there were so many good ones, Panciera says.

The requirements for these pieces: they can have no more than five characters, and they can run no more than 15 minutes. And, as the title suggests, they shouldn't have too many props besides tables and chairs.

Panciera is directing two "Tables and Chairs" plays that show the selection's diversity: "The Wanderer" by Todd Wallinger, about a father, arrested for stealing a watch, who tries to reconnect with his son, and "Harvest Ball" by Susan Goodell, in which two Southern women sit in a garden and talk about who's taking them to a ball.

Among the other plays this year are two by local writers: "Annunciation" by Suzanne Wingrove, and "Ars Longa, Vita Brevis" by Kevin Kane.

Panciera says the reading committee that selects the one-acts - it's an anonymous group of three - doesn't aim to choose a certain mix of works but simply goes with the ones they feel are the best.

Panciera and Stonington Players treasurer Regan Morse, who are co-producing the show, then determine how to put them together in a cohesive fashion - and they take into account some more practical concerns. One of the plays requires a lot of debris to be thrown onstage, so the decision had to be made: Where to put it in the line-up? First? At the end of act one so there's time to clean up the mess? (The latter is what they decided.)

As for Chelsea Players, the group was coming off a big play last year when Lamothe thought that the group needed to do something to broaden the base of directors. He and fellow Chelsea Player Dave Myers were teaching a theater class, and Lamothe bought a collection of 10-minute plays from the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

"My original goal was not even to do it as performance; it was to do it as a workshop to try to encourage new people to direct. (And) maybe when we advertise for auditions, we get a few new people to audition," Lamothe says.

"We realized after the auditions, within one week of rehearsals, 'Geez, this is going to be too good for just a workshop. Should we present it as a regular production?' Yes, yes, yes - everybody loved the idea."

The response from the audience was enthusiastic, too. Lamothe recalls, "People said, 'That was really great.' 'That was loads of fun.' 'That last play was hilarious.' 'Oh, that second play was really creepy.' The vibe was really positive, so the board of directors said we should do it again."

This year's compendium includes one locally written comedy, by Christine Reynolds. Her "Training Day" focuses on a recent Harvard graduate facing his first day on the job as a financial services worker answering phones.

Originally, Chelsea Players was contemplating making it an entire evening of comedies, and they are indeed mostly comedies - Jane Martin's "Pomp and Circumstance," for instance, in which a composer tries out for a job in a royal court.

But there is also a drama. Myers suggested and is directing the Romulus Linney play "Can Can"; it's a series of soliloquies, including one where a former soldier reminisces about a brief affair with a French woman.

"We were looking for things that would give the directors something good to chew on and would give the actors something to have fun with," Lamothe says.

Stonington Players' "Tables and Chairs VI," Stonington Community Center, 28 Cutler St., Stonington; opens Fri. and runs through Nov. 23; 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun.; $12; (860) 535-0106.

Chelsea Players' "An Evening of Short One-Acts," United Congregational Church Hall, 87 Broadway, Norwich; opens Fri. and runs through Nov. 23; 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; $8 in advance, $10 at the door; (860) 887-7289.

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