Fearless Comedy Productions has been putting on their annual new play festival titled Fearless Five for the last four years. The concept is relatively simple; Fearless Comedy chooses a theme and gets five playwrights, old and new, to create short plays around that theme. It also gives new directors a chance to showcase their skills as each of the five plays are directed by first-timers, with support from more experienced directors. Overall, I’m a huge fan of this concept as I think it’s a fantastic way to nurture new talent and encourage folks to take the leap and get involved in theater in ways they haven’t before. All of this is awesome!
Unfortunately, I can’t say that the plays themselves in the new play festival’s current installation, Fearless Five: Dreams, quite held up. I want to preface this by saying that a number of my criticisms of the show probably have to do in large part with the theme of dreams. Dreams are often totally confusing and nonsensical. They don’t really follow any sort of narrative arc, and their messages are generally completely unclear, which I think is what some of these writers were really going for. I’m aware of all of that, but I think there’s a way to play on the theme of dreams without creating stories that are also totally confusing and nonsensical. Many of these plays missed the mark, for me.
The first short play, “Dream Job,” written by James Lyndon Fairbairn, actually kicked things off fairly well. The story revolved around Ashley (Maretta Zilic) who has been unexpectedly called in for a job interview that she knows nothing about. This play includes a lot of typical dream elements, like random people and objects popping up all over the place (the woman you served dinner to at work yesterday, a huge pinecone, your elementary school music teacher, etc.) while also managing to hold onto an actual storyline with a satisfying conclusion. It was also quite funny! I thought Adrienne Lee stole the show as Paris, the woman interviewing Ashley. She did a great job saying her low-key insane lines with all the seriousness and professionality of a corporate business woman. Overall, I was feeling optimistic after watching “Dream Job.”
And this is where things went downhill, in my opinion. The next play, “Canoe” by Lana Rosario, was… a little obnoxious? It took the dream within a dream concept too far, in my opinion, resulting in mostly confusion. I found the main character of Nic (Maretta Zilic) to be irritating and not very relatable. The whole plot was muddled with confusion that I expected to iron itself out by the end, but it didn’t. The ending was just as puzzling as the rest of it. Again, I understand that dreams don’t often make sense and tie everything up with a nice bow, and art doesn’t always either. But I think there may have been a way to end this that brought at least a bit of catharsis and conclusion and avoided the whole 20(ish) minute play turning into a jumble of random plot points that don’t amount to anything in my head.
Next up was Jacob Gulliver’s “Apple Picker.” Now, this one did at least make sense. I can't say I loved it, but it was decently interesting and I was able to follow it beginning to end. "Apple Picker" tackles the classic science fiction question of what would happen if a robot began to take on human qualities, like dreams and love. Ari Newman was great as the robot, acting at times like an adoring puppy toward his handler Robin (Breanna Cecile) and at other times like a stereotypical, straightforward robot. Newman captured the intricacies of a robot on the verge of becoming unrecognizable from a human. I thought this one went on a little bit too long and included a little bit too much forced sass from southern, tomboy Robin. But overall, it was fine. I was able to follow it, and the ending managed to feel complete while also raising even more questions about the robot’s (and its family’s) fate.
The fourth play “A Sheep in the Hand is Worth Two in the Barn” by Garrick Dietze was probably my least favorite. I was completely lost the entire time. I got that it was supposed to have something to do with Cain (Ari Newman) and Abel (Jason Kruger) from the Bible, but I felt that it assumed the audience knew a great deal about Cain and Abel’s story, and I definitely do not. So I found myself lost right from the get go, and the added layer of the characters knowing that they were in a dream and trying to figure out why they were being dreamed about certainly did not ease my confusion. (I feel like even writing that sentence was confusing…) Jason Kruger was very funny in this one, but it didn’t make up for the fact that I had no idea what was going on and found myself just waiting for it to end instead of enjoying the performance.
The final play of the show, however, was excellent! Hoorah! “Oz” by Denzil Belin is set in a gay bar and told by a bartender, Dorothy (Maretta Zilic). Right out of the gate, Dorothy informs the audience that this would be different than the majority of gay media out there; this would be a happy story. The general plot is that two Wednesday afternoon regulars, Remy (Kaz Loren) and Ian (Jason Kruger), are clearly interested in each other but too shy to do anything about it. Each man tells Dorothy their separate but very similar daydream of finally interacting with the mysterious individual sitting across from them, and Dorothy attempts to bring them together in real life. This play was colorful, heartwarming, and funny. “Oz” was so good that it kind of made up for the head scratchers that preceded it.
Although I wouldn’t see Fearless Five: Dreams again myself, I would like to see other productions by this company. The cast was talented, and when the writing did work, it worked quite well. I think the dream theme just wasn’t my cup of tea. If you’re into more experimental kinds of theater, this might be a huge hit for you! By all means, support local artists and go see it! In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for next year’s new play festival, which hopefully will bring a theme that jives a little more with my interests.
Fearless Five: Dreams is playing at the Mounds Theatre in St. Paul through March 7.