With the Millibo Art Theatre moving to Ivywild in June, it seems fitting that its theme for this year's Six Women Play Festival should be "Planes, Trains and Automobiles — The Comings and Goings of Life."
Now in its seventh year, this popular festival has never before featured such a tight focus. While this netted fewer submissions (87 compared to 200-plus in previous years), there's no doubt it made for a stronger show, each play offering a unique spin on the way our vehicles take us to new places — those found on maps and in our minds.
Here's a quick look at each of them, which were strung together, as always, by hosts Jim Jackson and Brazilian firecracker Babette (Birgitta De Pree):
Skywriting: Amy Cuomo's frothy comedy features a self-admitted math geek who learns a lesson in love after hiring a pretty young pilot to scrawl a wedding proposal across the sky. I wasn't sure whether we were supposed to root for these two to get together at the end, but Sean Verdu and Madison Hunziker had some nice chemistry.
The 5564 to Toronto: A deserted bus station sets the stage for this Twilight Zone-like comedy by Los Angeles-area playwright Karen Howes. Here an excitable stranger tries to stop a lonely woman from boarding a bus after he finds an ominous note. The dialogue is fresh and funny, and while the story grows increasingly dark, Desiree Myers keeps the play light on its feet with her boundless energy as the ill-fated traveler.
6-Lane: A runaway teenage girl gets some unasked-for advice in this gritty drama set by the side of a busy freeway. Joe Forbeck brings a rough-edged charm to his role as a homeless man with a gift for gab. Brooklyn writer Elena Zucker throws in a gut-wrenching twist, but it was the enigmatic resolution that left me thinking about the play long after the stage went dark.
Carpool Mandala: In this quirky comedy, a narrator presents a trio of carpool-scheduling moms as though they were tribeswomen practicing some ancient ritual. Atlanta playwright Hilary King offers some amusing commentary on modern parenting, but the play takes a wrong turn to a sentimental ending that feels out of place.
Claudie's Brother: Caroline Carr gives the best performance of the night as a poor Southern girl with ADHD who pleads with her brother not to walk out on their family. The understated dialogue and bittersweet, almost haunting mood make it clear why Seattle playwright Barbara Lindsay is a festival favorite. (Her plays also appeared in 2008 and 2012.)
Edge: De Pree took a break from her hosting duties to star in this dark comedy with LeAnne Carrouth. Written by California playwright Emily Brauer Rogers, the play centers on a pair of despondent women who plan a Thelma and Louise-like drive off a cliff, only to get stuck just short of the rim. While the final catharsis seems unmotivated, director Joye Cook-Levy nimbly balances the humor of the situation with the very real despair of the characters.