Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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All the World’s a Stage for Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse

by Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

With the resilience that theatre folk are known for, the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse began working on alternatives to live performance as soon as the pandemic shutdown began in March. A free festival of short plays on video and a virtual art gallery are already up and running, with more online events to come.

The playhouse began its unusual 2020 season with an April play-writing contest on the theme “five-minute plays containing a moment of joy.” Out of nearly 30 submissions, six were selected for virtual productions, directed by playhouse executive and artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo and now available for viewing on YouTube. Links to the video performances, and brief recorded statements by the playwrights, are on the playhouse website at mvplayhouse.org, where viewers can vote for their favorites using the ballot at the bottom of the page.

None of these plays is actually five minutes in length, but each play clocks in at under 10 minutes, so the entire festival—writer statements and all—can be experienced in less than an hour.

“I love writing shorter pieces because of the instant gratification of completing it, and because they can be very elegant, unlike some of the longer works that can be very messy sometimes,” playwright Ledia Xhoga says in her writer’s statement.

Ms. Xhoga’s play Indoor Activities for Children, in which the host of a video blog cowers in a bathroom to escape her own bored child while an Albanian guest leads the program toward anarchy, was inspired by pandemic vlogs for moms, she said. Cristi Andrews and Vilma Hodo play the host and guest.

In another play set in the current moment, Take Two by Dan Newman, a pick-up attempt turns into a philosophical discussion about reopening from the shutdown—or perhaps, about taking another chance on love. John Noble Barrack and Meghan Leathers play the two strangers who take off their masks for each other.

The avian leads of Two Pigeons, by Mattapoisett playwright James E. Marlow, also get philosophical—or at least the two males do, when they’re not being dissed by a succession of females played with supreme indifference by Finty Kelly. Michael Jennings Mahoney and Chris Stahl are the involuntarily celibate male pigeons, bobbing their heads as they speculate on their matelessness. “The mystery is why there are always more young pigeons,” one says.

With warm humor and affection, both J.B. Miller and Mona Hennessy explore the unexpected insights that come in relationships with dementia. Ms. Hennessy’s Out of Mind, starring Paul Munafo, Jenny Allen and Heidi Karolina Harger, is a gentle farce with a delightful twist. In Mr. Moonbarley, a charmingly loopy exchange written by Mr. Miller starring Shelagh Hackett and Eileen Padua, an adult daughter meets her mother’s imaginary friend.

Family is also at the heart of Michael Towers’s Hatched, with Josephine Orr as a troubled young woman and Christopher Roberts as the uncle who brings her to a beach where he knows that something amazing is about to happen.

An accomplished director who has been with the playhouse since the 1980s, Ms. Bruder Munafo used the Zoom videoconferencing platform to rehearse and produce the six plays, each of which has two or three performers.

“What fun it’s been, learning the ins and outs of Zoom and working with actors from all over the country via this technology,” Ms. Bruder Munafo said.

Recently, she announced the playhouse’s virtual art space, where works by some of the Vineyard’s leading artists are on display and for sale at the playhouse’s virtual summer art show. .

Through July 15, the group show includes Rez Williams, Lowely Finnerty, Harry Seymour, Wendy Weldon, Lucy Sprayregen and Cindy Kane, with a work by Allen Whiting expected to go up this week, Ms. Bruder Munafo said.

The playhouse also is preparing for on-demand streaming of a professional video recording of Seaglass, Quilts & Song: Life in Pieces, Molly Conole’s one-woman biographical show that Ms. Bruder Munafo directed in May, 2019.

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