Taffy McCarthy is solitary on stage in the literal whole-nine-yards of white satin bridal paraphernalia; the gown is too long for her customary hopping and bopping.
In this Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) rehearsal of the first of five short original plays — banded together under the title Pick of the Crop — Ms. McCarthy portrays a hill country bride-to-be called Sis. The monologue, One Last Look, was written by the actor herself.
She describes a community potluck where her heartthrob, Jimmy, known around town as “The Captain of Everything,” brings her a slice of cherry pie. In the devastating self-consciousness of first love, she gulps down the pie as she stares up at her crush, only secondarily remembering she’s allergic to canned cherry pie mix. Now Sis shimmies in her chair trying not to scratch because her mama always warned her it was unladylike. Soon her white knight lifts her in his arms and carries her out to his Chevy pickup for a shot of benadryl at the ER.
As he holds her, his clean plaid shirt smells of “warm pine needles and pancakes.”
Ms. McCarthy slips into the personae and voices of the other characters.
Mama: “Baby, it looks like Barbie’s dream house in here.”
Rozanne, her laconic boss, “You deserve this man.”
Daddy to Jimmy: “She’s just like her mother. She’s never gonna argue but she’ll always get her way.”
Jimmy himself: “Well, you can look at life as if nothin’s a miracle or as if everythin’s a miracle.”
Hmm, Einstein in a Chevy van.
Ms. McCarthy takes a break from the play rehearsal at Katharine Cornell Theatre on this cold October Sunday. Her daughter and fellow thespian Chelsea McCarthy jumps in to buttress the architecturally demanding dress, which is in itself a character in One Last Look. Says Chelsea, “I always end up having to costume people, so my bag is filled with stuff — pins, tape measure, a seam remover . . .”
The director of this first piece, one of ITW’s guiding lights and its artistic director, Kaf Warman, teaches theatre at Carnegie Mellon University, so last week Ms. McCarthy journeyed down to Pittsburgh to receive instruction there. “I can’t direct myself,” says the writer/actor.
“Clint Eastwood can do it, but I can’t do it.”
The ITW rehearsals are part of the much-anticipated second annual festival of short plays by Island authors. Pick of the Crop opened last night and will run through October 31 at the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Spring street in Vineyard Haven. There will be two separate programs on alternating nights and, judging by this first exposure to rehearsals, theatregoers will need to see both sets of short plays.
Later on this Sunday afternoon, with stage manager Betsy Hauck and production manager Stephanie Burke running on re-energizing batteries, another longtime guiding light, Lee Fierro, floats in from the sunlight. In the cavernous theatre she rehearses two madly divergent works. First, four monologues have been extracted from the 17 that make up the one-woman show, Envia, by Kelly DuMar. In a twist from the original, males have been cast for two out of the four solo parts (Ms. DuMar played them all in the original production). The four monologues run the gamut from a pushy and off-the-rails clerk (Gilman Jeffers) badgering a customer for a zip code, to an actor (Jessica Gorman) turning the tables on a casting director by auditioning the auditioner.
Closure, by GR Russell — the second directing stint in the lineup for Ms. Fierro — rolls out a full-scale living room set with a couch, armchairs, mantel and a dining room table topped by a vase of pink roses. Five actors play out a drama in which a daughter is en route home with her new husband. Fresh bulletin: The couple will stop in Cleveland for the husband to receive closure from his former love, a guy, in fact. Leave it to Cleveland to unravel a relationship. Now the daughter is en route divorced, though her freshly axed ex follows close behind. Out of this mess, family secrets stand revealed and further, larger, messier closure looms.
In the late afternoon, 22-year-old writer and director Allison Carr, graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and Fairleigh Dickinson University, even in rehearsal rocks the house with her play H.O.P.E., featuring seven actors cast from Island high schools: Haley Hewson, Sarah Swift, Sidra Dumont, Della Burke, Ashley Gwynn, Ian Chickering and Grant Meacham.
This hour-plus play was Ms. Carr’s senior project, presented to her department to huge acclaim at Fairleigh Dickinson last year. The characters slowly yet powerfully disclose their mental disorders, alcohol and drug use, self-injuring, anger, paranoia, and out-of-control behavior, to what resembles group therapy but is actually a kind of solitary confinement in the aggregate. Their words bleed beautifully and poetically into one another’s, yet each spins in an orbit far above the stratosphere, seemingly without the possibility of help or hope. It’s a tour de force that keeps the viewer riveted in place.
Separation Tango, written and directed by Wayne Greenwell brings together two much-admired Island performers, Treather Gassman and Rob Myers, actor, WVVY deejay and a founding member of the band Kahoots. We’re dropped into another troubled relationship. Dance moves, while actually performed, are also metaphorical as the two learn to accept and adapt to each other’s peculiarities and differences and even, at last, to exchange character traits.
Just One Look and H.O.P.E. have been paired together for Thursday, Oct. 28 and Saturdays, Oct. 23 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. Envia, Separation Tango and Closure will pack the alternate powerhouse program, running on Fridays, Oct. 22 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, Oct. 24 and 31 at 3 p.m. Admission is $15, or $25 for a two-night pass; available at the door. For details, call 508-737-8550.