We Like Short Shorts: Quickies Comes to the Art House

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by Steve Desroches

It is said that Mark Twain once wrote, “I apologize for such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” That same sentiment has been attributed to President Abraham Lincoln, the Roman philosopher Cicero, and transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, among many others. Whoever said it, it’s clearly been a challenge to every writer. To tell a story completely, yet succinctly is a talent, as pounding away at a keyboard requires the ability to bat away unnecessary words like persistent mosquitos. With no limits on length and time, a tale can get unruly. But for those who enjoy an adventure, short stories are a thrill all their own, as they tell a complete narrative with fewer devices and techniques to rely on. Every word matters. Throughout the month of September, Provincetown will get a chance to see the power of brevity with Quickies: 4 Short Plays from Provincetown, a co-production between Provincetown Dramatic Arts and Mark Cortale, presented at the Art House.

Founded in 2004 by Margaret Van Sant, Provincetown Dramatic Arts has been an important force in getting new theatrical works to the stage, as has Cortale as artistic director of the Art House and New Works Provincetown, a developmental theater lab. With this particular collaboration, playwright Jim Dalglish, who is well-known to theater fans on Cape Cod, is stepping in as a producing partner. As one of the four playwrights included in the program, Dalglish has been with Quickies since its debut in Provincetown at the Red Room in April. Each play is from an LGBTQ perspective on modern-day America. For their compelling writing and performances, Quickies was chosen to be part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in Ireland this past May, and now it returns to Provincetown, the tiny town with an enormous theatrical legacy that gave these short plays their bounce across the Atlantic.

“Provincetown says, ‘yes,’” says Dalglish. “There are some really decent people who are ready and able to do new and challenging things. Provincetown says yes over and over again to new work. It’s not easy, not easy anywhere, but Provincetown is still a place where theater is supported.”

Included on the bill is Madame Executrix by Doug Asher-Best, a story set in a cemetery and featuring a woman who is the executor of her late brother’s estate. When she deviates from his written wishes he tries to stop her from beyond. Look What You Made Me Do by Lynda Sturner introduces audiences to Grace and Brenda, a blissfully happy couple in Manhattan with a great marriage. But can their relationship survive the isolation induced by the pandemic? Van Sant presents Pulse, a short about a woman trying to make sense of her own life after the terrible massacre in Orlando in 2016, as she prepares to address the crowd at a Pride rally. And finally Dalglish wrote The Black Eye, in which an aging gay man picks up a street-wise hitchhiker, who ends up driving the situation into dangerous territory. Actors Sara Bleything, Joe MacDougall, Samantha McMahon, and Tommy Walsh will portray all the characters throughout the evening’s performance.

The trip to Ireland gave Quickies a huge boost as it wowed the festival and received several nominations for awards for writing and acting at the acclaimed theatrical event. Founded by Brian Merriman in 2004 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Oscar Wilde in his native Dublin, the festival provides a platform for LGBTQ stories with more than half of the productions coming from outside of Ireland, including the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as Poland, Germany, Zimbabwe, France, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Venezuela, and Canada.

“It’s fantastic,” says Dalglish. “Dublin is a theater city. It really supports theater. And the festival gets submissions from all over the world and is very selective in what they accept. It’s really the oldest continually operating gay theater festival in the world.”

With its global reach, the festival has had a close relationship with Provincetown Dramatic Arts, in particular, as well as the town in general since 2014 when Van Sant was first invited to participate. In turn, she invited Merriman to visit the Outer Cape the next year, where he participated in the Provincetown Playwright’s Lab hosted at the Provincetown Theater. In 2016 he returned with a production of Eirebrushed, a riveting play about the gay and lesbian heroes who were leaders in the 1916 uprising against the British, often known as the Easter Rebellion. From Provincetown it went out to performances in Boston and New York City. Merriman returned in 2018 with Wretched Little Brat, a piece about Lord Alfred Douglas and Robbie Ross, each of whom were Oscar Wilde’s lovers. It’s clear that the festival and Provincetown Dramatic Arts have a firm relationship focused on mutual success. And both have felt the special energy of the town that for decades now has enchanted, and bewitched, playwrights to take the leap into the theatrical ether.

“I wouldn’t be a playwright without Provincetown,” says Dalglish. “I took part in the playwriting festival in 2000, or 2001, and wrote a short. Margaret [Van Sant] came up to me and asked me if I had a full-length play and I said yes. And then I went home and wrote one!”

Quickies: 4 Short Plays from Provincetown is at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., Tuesday and Wednesday now through September 21 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($25/$35) are available at the box office and online at provincetownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.