Bite-sized plays capture audiences’ attentions during their lunch break
Westport-based JIB Productions has an antidote to the winter blues with its provocative series, Play With Your Food, featuring staged readings January through April. The series is a twist on dinner theater with three thought-provoking one-act plays staged at a variety of venues in Fairfield, Westport and Greenwich coupled with a luncheon catered by local restaurants. Nourishing the mind and body, each show lasts about 90 minutes, including lunch, and ends with an audience talkback with the cast, artistic director Carole Schweid and sometimes even the playwright.
The series, which officially launched in 2005 by the nonprofit organization, routinely sells out and attracts top talent in the form of actors and playwrights. Schweid, producer Diana Muller and their team read hundreds of plays throughout the year and attend many one-act play festivals to ferret out clever and well-written plays from both established and emerging playwrights.
The season kicks off in Westport (Toquet Hall) Jan. 7-8 and in Fairfield (Fairfield Theatre Company) Jan. 14 with “The Bridge Play” by Danielle Trzcinski, a dark comedy fresh from its appearance at the Summer Shorts 2019 Festival at 59East59 Theaters. Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn’s contemporary “The Gun Show” and the poignant “Hard to Be Happy” by Julianne Homokay wrap up the program. The Greenwich season opens at the Greenwich Arts Council Jan. 22-23 with Hamish Linklater’s comical “Nudity Rider” (what happens when an actor elects not to strip down for a part), and a young girl’s unpredictable coming-of-age story in “The Adventures of…” by Kathleen Warnock.
The plays are gems yet surprises are bound to happen and no two performances will be the same. “It’s show business, you never know until you put a play in front of people whether it’s going to go over so there’s a certain amount of excitement about it,” Schweid said. “We’re kind of spoiled brats when it comes to putting on plays. We only want to do stuff we love. And then you have to put the show together kind of like a sandwich — some good meat in the middle, something that really resonates, that’s not necessarily serious but significant … something that people can think about, talk about and ponder.”
The group stays true to its mission to bring quality theater to the Fairfield County area (it has also expanded to Rye, N.Y.) so theatergoers do not have to travel to New York City to see great shows, Muller said. “Our audiences in Fairfield County and beyond really appreciate and support the arts and they are well-versed in theater. There’s really nothing else like what we do. Finding the right combination of plays is important that lets people have a good time and also we find theater reflects how we are living now and that people want to be challenged.”
The series uses minimalist staging, sans costumes or sets, so the focus is on the acting and the words. “The actors are usually on stools, they have a script in hand and it shows you that you really don’t need anything else. It is incredible how at the end of a 20-minute play you can get a whole story,” Muller said.
When Schweid is reading plays, she is asking herself, “What is this play about, what are we talking about here? To be able to boil things down to the real essence of what this is about and what is one character trying to get ... I guess that’s where I must live because that’s what I’m always looking for.”
Trzcinski’s play explores the heavy topic of suicide but interjects humor and finds the characters taking unexpected turns. “Suicide is such a serious topic and I never want to make light of it. What I strive to do is take people on an emotional journey so when those dramatic moments come, audiences really get hit with it,” she said. “As a writer, I am always focusing on character relationships. Even though on paper John and Alex are two completely different people in life, they both have something very deep in common, which is that they both feel alone. Whether they know it or not, they need one another.”
Individual tickets are $54 per performance (including lunch) or $200 for a four-month season ($50 per performance). For more information, visit JIBProductions.org or call the box office at 203-293-8729.