What: Jackalope Play Festival: Summer Tales of Strangeness
When: 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Mary Miller Theater, 300 E. Simpson St., Lafayette
Info: 720-209-2154 or tclstage.org
Parents' guide: Appropriate for teens
LAFAYETTE -- Things that go bump in the night take center stage during The Theater Company of Lafayette's Jackalope Play Festival: Summer Tales of Strangeness.
It's a clever concept, this idea of commissioning six playwrights to compose short plays based on urban legends. It's tales told around the campfire rendered as realism.
In "Cajun Bud's Exotic Animal Ranch and Souvenir Shop" by David Golden, cosmetics saleswoman Diane (Caroline O'Brien) stumbles upon a ramshackle zoo when her car breaks down on a bayou back road. The place is run by Clark and June (Donny Petro and Judy Carlson), who greet Diane with a folksy malevolence. What kind of animal did they say that was snarling in the distance?
The performances are solid and the early tension sings. But you can see the ending of this urban yarn coming from a mile away.
Madge Montgomery's "Cousin Edna Visits" also telepaths its ending, although it showcases lively turns from Michelle Clavijo-Diaz and Rachel Ricca as cousins feuding over the fate of a woodland cabin. Their testy banter compensates for a rather heavy-handed sound design.
With "The Chupa ... Who?" writer Juan Carlos Espinoza gives us a scenario worthy of Salvador Dali: A man and his maid (Petro and Clavijo-Diaz) find a Spanish-speaking Chupacabra (Espinoza) on their property, only to discover he's a refugee. Espinoza's costume looks as if it came from a Mardi Gras fire sale (not a bad thing), yet the absurdity here never tips into political satire, for which the border issue seems ripe.
C.P. Stancich's "Voice of the Cleft" finds a grown nerd and two of his high school tormenters trekking through the woods in search of a grotto known for strange doings. How they came to be making this trek is never quite articulated, yet when they reach their goal, fear levels the playing field.
David Golden returns with "The Nature of Things," where two old codgers (Petro and Nathan Ellgren) annoy a salty reporter (Lynn Zowack) trying to tease out the details of the juicy discovery they've enticed her with. Being old men, they have a devil of a time getting to the point. It's a bit wordy, but Zowack gives the piece its kick as a journalist trying to sort facts from psychobabble.
Two plays stand out in this pantheon: Nora Douglass' "Jack Sneepalope" and Emily Golden's "Heirloom" manage to be creepy and funny at the same time.
In "Sneepalope," morticians Harriet and Irene (Vonda Utterback and O'Brien) are charged with making their cadaver customers presentable for their funerals. But what if it's a closed casket? Oh, the fun they can have with rouge. The cast shines, led by Utterback's straitlaced beautician who forsakes propriety and Brenton Daviau as a narcoleptic whose wife keeps shipping him off to the funeral parlor.
In "Heirloom," Sadie and Russel (Ricca and Espinoza) are cleaning the attic when they come across a full-length portrait of his Gran as a child (Sydney Parriott). Is it alive? Whenever Russel's back is turned, the painting taunts wife Sadie. Who hasn't wondered at the havoc a piece of art might cause if it suddenly came to life?
The point of this festival isn't fear but fun. Despite its occasional stumble, Jackalope will put a smile on your face.