It was a big night. Bobo the Mime walked his invisible dog Pinky for the last time. Two dudes shared an emotional breakthrough while watching a football game on TV. A young widow paid an unpleasant visit to her former mother-in-law’s. A date between two puppies went south after it emerged one was not pure Beagle, as was earlier suggested.
These were some of the shorts performed at CrazyBusy, a manic theater event hosted last weekend by Whole Theatre at Live Arts. In it, a team of 12 actors performed 33 original two-minute pieces over the course of less than an hour. The performances were a fundraiser for a batch of locals hoping to cover the considerable cost of staging Cry of the Mountain, Adelind Horan’s one-woman documentary play about mountaintop removal, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, next month in Scotland.
As director (and Cry of the Mountain producer) Ray Nedzel explained while introducing CrazyBusy, playwrights generally spend a lot of time writing, and then even more time fielding rejection letters. But in the spirit of the unjuried Edinburgh Fringe—which claims to be the largest arts fest in the world—Nedzel’s call for scripts was, “I don’t care what you write. We’ll do it.”
As must be the case in Edinburgh, you wouldn’t expect to see a string of 33 plays and have them all to be great. But because of its relentless pace, with one scene blending into the next, CrazyBusy remained exciting. For “Show Tunes Urinal,” written by the ensemble, local stage regular Nick Heiderstadt simply walked up to a urinal, unzipped and started singing “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It became an awkward moment as Napoleon Tavale ripped into an intense dramatic short called “Pelican,” by the local playwright Robert Wray.
Two minutes is about as long as it takes to tell a joke, and some of the best shorts amounted to punch lines. In Clinton Johnston’s “Carry,” a young woman asks a male friend for help moving a table, her mother emerges to remind her daughter of the crushing weight of adulthood—of childbearing, dragging kids around only to watch your husband leave and your family fall apart!—that makes moving the table seem small in comparison. “Your mom is intense,” the friend riffs, cutting the tension as the mother walks away.
The whip-fast pacing was also good practice for Horan, who performed after CrazyBusy a version of Cry of the Mountain that’s scaled back from its original length, from 86 minutes to 55. Nedzel and Horan will stay in Edinburgh for three weeks, performing the play daily. Running performances of Cry of the Mountain alongside CrazyBusy was a way of “putting it in the setting it will be in,” says Nedzel. The festival hosts about 2,500 shows each day, says Nedzel. “It’s important to be good right out of the gate,” he says.
Especially so for Cry of the Mountain, which in title and concept sounds borderline hokey: a young actress took the verbatim transcripts of conversations with activists and executives on either side of the debate over strip mining. But Horan’s performance blows perceptions about documentary theater—and mountaintop removal—out of the water. The 23-year-old is a gifted performer, readily inhabiting the skin of a former miner whose granddaughter was sickened by groundwater, a young activist who runs afoul of coal companies, and a pair of executives justifying the cost against America’s energy needs.
Even a year after the play’s local premier, Horan was obviously affected by the voices she channels. As one of Horan’s characters explains it in one of the play’s dark comic moments, mountaintop removal is like going to the barber to ask for a haircut. Instead of giving you what you ask for, the barber cuts off your head, neck, shoulders and chest.
If it didn’t ring of truth, it might make for a good punchline.