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The 10 By 10 Festival's all-star shorts in Carrboro

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After 10 productions of 100 (count 'em!) 10-minute plays over the last 10 years, the 10 By 10 Festival should pretty much have this act down pat—and for the most part, it does. There's certainly room to quibble over the finer points in the Best of 10 by 10, a collection of works from the festival's first nine years, including the choice of several pieces noticeably slighter than the omitted Holy Hell, 10 By 10's only 5-star play (whose original 2006 cast included current ensemble members Barbette Hunter and Greg Hohn).

But the basic truth here is that this group of eight directors has assembled a compelling showcase, one that makes a strong argument for a frequently discounted genre. Yes, as was the case in this year's regular installment of 10 By 10, the line between sketch comedy—or tragedy, for that matter—and good playwriting isn't always crossed. For example, pieces like Mike Folie's Bluff and Dust come off as scene work from larger plays, incomplete in themselves.

On the other hand, a sketch like Doug Reed's The Idiot's Guide to Classical Music may have zilch going for it in the dialogue department. So what? It still could have been lifted, whole, from the landmark works of comedians Ernie Kovacs or Sid Caesar (look 'em up on YouTube).

Christopher Lockheardt's Helluva Poker Face, Matt Casarino's Green Eggs and Mamet, Barbara Lindsay's Fighting Mr Right and Reed's Exit Interview throw us into situations with characters who were clearly living robust lives well before the first line of dialogue. Then they follow them through a crisis, transition or realization. Amid the plentiful laughs, something significant changes in these characters' lives. In under 10 minutes. When it works, it's theatrical art—and well worth seeing.

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