Battles: New Plays about Conflict at the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center

The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center took the concept of conflict to a further stage this September 22nd. As part of the company’s Tuesday night readings on Zoom and Facebook, they featured three 10-minute shows in which characters didn’t just clash: they battled. To the delight of theatre afficionados and the consternation of hockey fans, most of the combatants confined their fighting to the verbal variety.

            The evening opened with Matt Levy’s Just Jokes. To add authenticity to the piece, comedienne Erica Spera wrote the play’s quips. The show featured a verbal duel in which each character (Russell Dolan and Samantha Mishinski) took part in a roasting competition versus the other. Political campaigns seemed civil by comparison. As a twist, the playwright crafted a surprise ending that gave the piece heart. Matt Maran, Nick Endo and Justine D’Souza supported the cast.

            Show Me State playwright Deborah Tagasz showed writers how to innovate. Mr. Tagasz may have written the first play to include the trio of a 90s soft drink, a Yuletide gathering at a gas station and the town of Cloverdale, Indiana. Can of Surge and the Spirit of Christmas introduced the audience to two sisters (played by Justine D’Souza and Amanda Padilla). While traveling to a family gathering on Christmas Eve, they encountered car trouble. The hospitality of the gas station attendant (Susan Roberts) couldn’t prevent these sisters from engaging in that honored Holiday tradition of letting out their repressed anger at one another.

            The battle rolled into the emergency room compliments of Jane M. Lee’s Family Emergency. The premise fused the hostility of a Jerry Springer program with the warmth and irony of an O. Henry story. It also featured an unusual setting for a family get-together. A patient (Ann Gripps) entered the ER because of a head injury. Another one (Haneen Arafat Murphy) arrived due to a broken nose. In the course of treating these women, the doctor (Seema Shahane) figured out that they were both sisters. The physician could have swapped her stethoscope for a referee’s whistle when Ms. Gripps said, “I only get into altercations once a week.” Instead, the doctor opted to counsel the siblings.          

            Anna Paone introduced the show by warning the audience that it contained some “spicy” language. This seemed superfluous. As residents of the New York and New Jersey areas: isn’t that the only kind of language we understand?

            The actors in these pieces played outstanding opposites to one another. These approaches amplified the conflict. In Just Jokes, Ms. Mishinski’s Steven Wright-esqe demeanor contrasted well with Mr. Dolan’s animated approach. Ms. D’Souza, Ms. Padilla and Ms. Roberts all delivered strong performances that allowed Ms. Tagasz’s dialog to drive Can of Surge and the Spirit of Christmas’ story. During Family Emergency, Ms. Grippo delivered her lines a bit slower than normal speech whereas Ms. Murphy spoke at an accelerated pace.

            The characters engaged in vigorous skirmishes during the three pieces. Interestingly, all three playwrights crafted positive endings for their work. If only life could imitate art more often.  

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