by Byron Woods
"I'd never written a play before this spring. Since then, I've written nine of them." The surprising words belong to nacent playwright Debbie Barrett, who apparently won the 2009 ArtsCenter Play Slam on Saturday night in Carrboro based on 22% of her total lifetime dramatic output -- to date, at any rate.
Under rules similar to those used in poetry slams, a boisterous crowd of over 200 voted her tender, comic three-minute play Conception as one of the top five plays in the first round of competition. Then A Commitment in Ink sealed the deal in round two, garnering the newby playwright the coveted honorarium -- 100 one dollar bills, tastefully arranged in a plexiglass fishbowl -- along with crucial bragging rights until the 2010 competition.
Though Barrett's works benefited from strong performances -- on the basis of a total of ten minutes' rehearsal time before the night of staged readings began -- both also clearly featured intelligent writing that mixed humor with the humane.More details after the break.
In Conception a man and woman give new meaning to the term "performance anxiety" as they overthink the implications that every facet of how a baby is conceived might have on the resulting child. In A Commitment in Ink, a tattoo artist becomes an unlikely voice of experience when he tries to talk a young man out of getting one tattoo in particular.
In both works, the beginning playwright managed to convey clear characters, situations and payoffs -- in less time than it takes to boil an egg.
In other notable works, Monica Byrne, who distinguished herself on stage last season in Little Green Pig's production of Fistful of Love, proved similarly compelling with a funny, poignant take on what the last human dialogue might be in Conversation, before giving the professional and political jealousies in a Miss America competition a dadaist spin in Beauty Pageant.
Elsewhere, Steve Gallagher's Undying Love put a rewarding spin on couples therapy, while Renee Nixon's The Puzzle focused on a doting husband using a popular word game to deliver a unique message to his wife.