The Performant: Life is a BOA

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Bay One Acts festival turns 10

“Life is like a Boa,” the random stranger at the bus station (Nicole Hammersla) announces to the sweetly bemused young man (Ray Hobbs) she has marked as her test subject. Cleverly referencing both the reptile and the Bay One Acts festival -- through March 26 at Boxcar Theater -- in which she is performing, Hammersla goes on to demonstrate the action of being constricted by a giant snake, first on herself, and then on Hobbs. It’s a reference that perhaps doesn’t stand up to close examination, but for a moment at least you go with it. Life is like a snake sometimes, and sometimes a play. Sometimes coiled around you, smothering, dangerous, and sometimes unfolding swiftly before you, like a message pulled from an unexpected bottle washed to shore. 

At the Bay One Acts festival, now in its tenth year, there’s plenty of the unexpected tucked inside the eleven shorts plays by local playwrights, running in repertory through March 26. Sunday I saw a lineup of six (“Program two”) as wildly divergent in tone and intention as a group of strangers in the bus station thrown together by chance—the shared goal is to survive the ride. In Daniel Heath’s  “Twice as Bright,” Nicole Hammersla’s bus station character, Jen, announces to Hobb her intention to have a fifteen-minute love affair with him before her bus comes. “All I want from life is an abundance of wonderful things,” she explains as she slinks around him with calculated insouciance, trying to avoid the afterburn of a relationship gone wrong by fanning the brief, bright flame of a new one.

Far removed from the slightly sordid staging ground of the bus station, Megan Cohen’s “A Three Little Dumplings Adventure” is set in the claustrophobic confines of a home in the ‘burbs, where three manic little dumplings dressed identically in baby pink and powder blue, blaze a trail of wreckage in search of the hidden world they know only as their mommy’s room. Unlike a lot of “updated” fairy tales that seek to show how it would be really literally possible to live in a shoe or a pumpkin, and suck the blood out of the scary bits, “Three little Dumplings” replaces blood with gleeful venom and madrigals with choreographed electropop numbers. Murderous, foul-mouthed, impossibly cute, whatever truth the dumplings are poised to reveal is sublimated by the hurricane force of their spontaneous safari, their inability to grow up the not-so-stealthy weapon of their appeal.

Yet another completely different chord is struck by the 11th Hour Ensemble’s newest movement-based work, “Cloud Flower”. Eerily apropos for this particular moment, much of the piece is set in and inspired by the bombing of Hiroshima, and includes a tableau of corpses, fires, a rescue, a song perched on the edge of a dream. Streaks of ash-black paint trickling down the faces and hands of ensemble members, recalling the effects of devastation. Especially in light of the looming possibility of a present-day nuclear crisis in Japan, the heart of the piece is almost too tender, too overwrought to bear, but in terms of life and art imitating each other, there may be no better time to see it than right now.

Through March 26
Boxcar Playhouse
505 Natoma, SF
$20-$32
www.bayoneacts.org

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