Rapid Lemon Productions’ “Variations on Sacrifice,” a showcase of 11 bite-size plays by Baltimore playwrights, presents something for everyone: bedroom antics after the first-ever penis transplant, a moving breakup monologue, human sacrifice via office politics, plus eight other unique short stories.
Because each play is only five to 10 minutes, if something isn’t your thing, you don’t have to wait too long before a completely new play by a different playwright takes center stage at Baltimore Theatre Project. It’s an ideal introduction to Baltimore theater for newbies and a savory buffet of plays for avid theatergoers.
Every year, playwrights submit work centered around a theme voted on by audiences at the previous year’s “Variations.” Audience members last year chose “sacrifice,” but a lot of the selected plays only tangentially touch on the theme.
Rapid Lemon Productions utilizes its network of company members and regular collaborators to present a cohesive production that gives each play equal respect through compelling direction by Lance Bankerd; thoughtful, effective production elements by Meghan Stanton (sound design), Daniel Weissglass (lighting design) and Lucy Wakeland (costume design); and strong performances by every single actor in the ensemble.
Now in its 14th edition, the annual play festival was extended this year to a third weekend with staged readings of nine additional plays, for a total of 20 original works by area writers.
Each play has its unique merits, from the poetic visual language of Tatiana Nya Ford’s “Samson” and charming twist of Shelby Chapman’s midair “Turbulence,” to the striking performance art-based interpretations of “New Leaf” by Will Trace, “For Puerto Rico” by Naimah Ezigbo and “Sack” by Meredith Barr and Max Garner.
Mike Smith’s “Turnbuckle” takes on the world of female professional wrestling, and Rufus Drawlings sets “Fabricated Veal” outside a dance hall in 1922 New Jersey.
There really is something for every taste. Mine run toward emotionally compelling, satirically thought-provoking and erotically comedic, which describe the four standout plays in “Variations on Sacrifice.”
Lee Conderacci’s emotive monologue “Springtime Cyclic” uses poetic, confessional language to express one woman’s navigation through a recent breakup. Her specific descriptions clearly create mental images of this woman’s relationship with her ex, who loved The National and lived in an “American Psycho” apartment in D.C. Actor Donna Ibale beautifully interprets Conderacci’s honest story through her delivery of the script and impressive contemporary dance skills.
Tyrone Chapman and Archie D. Williams Jr.’s “A Familiar Member” had me laughing out loud from the first “What’s the problem, mandingo?” to the ludicrous discovery of the original owner of the penis one of the characters acquired in the first-ever penile transplant surgery. Mike Smith and Mia Robinson’s full commitment to this bedroom scene—which includes performing in just a sheet around the waist for Smith and lingerie for Robinson—is a treat, with Robinson giddily embracing her husband’s “upgrade” and Smith hilariously grappling with not feeling connected to his new member or his wife’s blatant preference for it.
Through comedic alternate universe scenarios, Aladrian Wetzel’s “Dark Side of Light” and Justin Lawson Isett’s “Let’s Kill Doug Because He Sucks” successfully satirize racism and office politics, respectively.
“Dark Side of Light” presents a game show episode where the answers of a mixed-race contestant (played with depth by Justin Johnson) are categorized as either “black” (Obama was the best president) or “white” (soccer is the best sport) to decide what race he belongs to. His black father (Smith) tries to convince him that white people are the enemy and that family and culture are more important than access and wealth, while his white mother (Chara Bauer) says he can enjoy privilege and a home in a gated community if he chooses to identify as white.
It’s a smart, disturbing framework to address race and racial ambiguity that takes a page from Jordan Peele’s brilliant “Get Out.” Wetzel sprinkles clever pop culture references and racial stereotypes throughout, including the assertion that Jimi Hendrix is the best musician as both a black and white answer, and the host (Tom Piccin) reacting to the contestant’s “Coming to America” best-movie answer with “Someone must be craving watermelon and fried chicken!”
Isett’s “Let’s Kill Doug Because He Sucks” closes the show on another high note, with the less sensitive topic of office politics. The entire ensemble gets to play affectless office workers at a weekly company meeting where, after not meeting sales goals, they have to decide which co-worker to give up as a human sacrifice to appease their corporate partner. Isett cleverly creates a normal-seeming revenge fantasy of killing annoying or disagreeable co-workers, which the actors hilariously perform. Chris (Smith) has even made a presentation to explain why Doug (Johnson) should be executed—he’s a poor note-taker and communicator, he ate two pieces of someone else’s birthday cake and he listens to EDM music.
It’s a fun, twisted end to an entertaining collection of original plays.
“Variations on Sacrifice” by Rapid Lemon Productions runs at Baltimore Theatre Project through Aug. 19. Running time is about 2 hours, which includes a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information, visit rapidlemon.com.