Philly Fringe 2017: Juniper Productions presents #CocktailPlays

Shaken or stirred?

Juniper Productions is a new company led by Sonya Aronowitz and committed to producing new plays by local playwrights. The company launches with #CocktailPlays, four one-acts written for the same three actors and directed by Marcia Ferguson. It’s set in Philadelphia Distilling's spacious high-ceilinged taproom.

Grayce Hoffman, Tyler S. Elliott, and that gorgeous bar. (Photo by Marv Kaplan)

Site-specific

Three of the four plays are set in bars, and since this one is a beauty -- with huge windows behind the bar revealing the distillery's vats and machinery -- sitting there on sofas, comfy chairs, or surprisingly pleasant folding chairs with a cocktail is a pleasure. Sarah Zerod innovates with household lamps and the bar's fixtures to light the action, giving each play a distinctive look.

Mark J. Costello's What We Talk About shows three friends meeting for a drink. Two of the friends, played by Grayce Hoffman and Tyler S. Elliott, are a happy couple; the third, Taiwo Sokan, is luckless in love. "Are you depressed?" they ask her. "You stopped posting on Facebook." The comedy's twist is the friend's unique proposal for the couple.

In Binders, Alisha Adams introduces a young man (Elliott) nervous about his upcoming marriage. A chatty bartender (Hoffman) recommends seminars she attended through "Life Authentic, LLC," where, she gushes, "I met my best self." The seminar leader's arrival seems more than coincidental, leading to clever exploration of several intriguing moral conundrums.

Distill: A Rally Cry for the American People is the 70-minute show's weak link. Josh A. Campbell's play isn't set in a bar, which make its abstractions more confusing, and the play jars alongside its more realistic companions. A voice-over explains the distillation process while the actors -- not really characters, but voices -- express their unhappiness about Trump and modern culture. The scattershot direct address feels collegiate in its raw idealistic earnestness and, unfortunately, its lack of clarity.

The evening ends on a high note with Bill D'Agostino's Disclosure, in which co-workers (Hoffman and Sokan) await a reporter (Elliott). They're contemplating risking their careers to expose the truth about some corporate malfeasance -- and lies are told by all.

Impressive beginnings

#CocktailPlays makes for a great introduction to Philadelphia Distillery, which created five unique drinks for this show (my "Distill" was yummy!). They make their delicious Bluecoat American Dry Gin on the premises.

Young actors Elliott, Hoffman, and Sokan move through the plays with confidence. Quickly transitioning (including costume changes) from one to the next, they perform sincerely and boldly, just feet away from the audience. #CocktailPlays showcases them and the writers, Ferguson, and Juniper Productions, whose next project, in Spring 2018, will be a trio of new one-acts telling one family's story over three generations. Stay tuned. 

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