WHEN DAVID SCHULNER'S new one-act play, "Breakfast Ballad," opens at the Loring Playhouse next week, there won't be much in the way of a set. A table and a chair or two, perhaps, but for the most part the stage will be bare. The actors will talk directly to the audience, and when the 30-minute play has run its course, they will slip back into the crowd. This bare-bones approach is intended to direct the audience's attention to the play itself.
Schulner's script is one of four plays getting the workshop treatment at this year's Foreplay, an evening of new one-acts organized by Ebullient Theatre. "It's a small play about small people living small lives," explains Schulner from Dallas, where he is producing another new play, Isaac. "It's just a husband-and-wife routine. I've been working on stuff with questions of large moral significance, so this was a chance to do something simple for once."
Simple will be the order of the evening. Following hard on the heels of the Playwrights' Center's Hothouse Festival, Foreplay offers a sampling of the work of four more emerging playwrights. Rather than staged readings like those featured during the Hothouse, however, Foreplay includes some minimal mise en scène. The playwrights' scripts are essentially produced as complete one-act plays--certainly a more appealing draw for audiences and perhaps a more enjoyable exercise for the writers. According to Matt Sciple, who produced his script, "No Redeeming Social Value," at last year's Foreplay before premiering it at the 1998 Fringe Festival, "The Hothouse is designed to showcase plays that are already on their way to regional theaters....The Playwrights' Center is like any organization; it has levels, labels, and cliques. That's both good and bad."
Ebullient Theatre artistic director Bruce Abas developed Foreplay in 1998 partially out of what he describes as frustration with the cliquish predilections of the Playwrights' Center. Although all the Foreplay writers are members of the Center, they are drawn from the general pool--the least prestigious of the Center's membership levels. "We want to give people a break who may not have gotten a break before," explains Abas. "They haven't had a lot of experience, so they're willing to take more risks. They're not inhibited by the conventional rules of what makes a good play. It's riskier, a little more raw."
The rawest of this year's entries should be Timothy Cope's "The First Noble Truth," a play about a midnight lover's quarrel, which, the writer asserts, will contain both frank sexual content and nudity. To direct his one-act for Foreplay, Cope has recruited the perennially unpredictable Heidi Arneson, whom he met while working at the Science Museum a decade ago. Along with Cope's script, Foreplay will feature a one-act by Anne Bertram called "Changed Brides," which the playwright describes as "corporate gothic melodrama," and "Playing Small" by Sean Grathwol, which is about a young woman dating a rock band.
David Schulner's play, "Breakfast Ballad," will also make its premiere. Lilliputian as the play itself may be, Schulner's work at Hidden Theatre (most recently in The Dying Gaul) and his recent collaboration with heavyweight dramatist Craig Lucas on the script for Savage Light should be enough to entice audiences.
According to Abas, curiosity packed the house for last year's festival. And, he adds, unlike the Hothouse, all four Foreplay one-acts are squeezed into a tight two-hour show--an undeniable incentive for theatergoers who do not thrill at the prospect of an evening spent watching actors stand on a stage and read from a script. Less a staged reading than a rough staging, Foreplay offers a brief taste of things to come.
Foreplay runs May 3-5 and May 10-12 at the Loring Playhouse; (612) 827-5620.