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A Saturday-night performance of Fresh Ink Shorts from TheatreXP, a company new to the Philly scene, drew a full house to the black-box Skinner Studio on the top floor at Plays & Players. This Fringe offering packs 11 short plays, most penned by TheatreXP artistic director R.T. Bowersox, into about 70 minutes.
Bowersox (a playwright, screenwriter, author, actor, and director) founded TheatreXP in the Florida Keys 12 years ago along with his wife, theater artist and administrator Melody G. Moore. The pair wanted to produce more “cutting-edge” theater than was already on offer from other companies in their region. In 2020, they transplanted the company when they moved to Philadelphia.
Beyond the founder’s spotlight
According to his bio, Bowersox also co-founded the company in order to produce his own works, and with seven pieces on the Fresh Ink Shorts roster under his byline, this Fringe entry bears that out, with mixed success.
Some titles are fleet and mildly funny, like E-Harmonics, in which two jaded academics contemplate a hook-up. Some draw out one gag longer than even a five-minute play can support. (Sex-gadget shops, amirite???) Another has a love-triangle premise that is so inane, I was still mad about it the next day.
No Coincidence, a short by Stephen Olsen, feels cribbed from the 2001 rom-com Serendipity, except the woman in question really is hoping the fates will protect her from having to say yes—not that the universe will let that happen (my hot tip would be never to go out with anyone who uses their lost dog as an excuse to hit on you).
Neal Ruchman’s Oh, It’s You is a bittersweet little delight, proving both whimsical and sad, fanciful and recognizable, in the space of a few minutes. A second short by Olsen, Another View, anchored with poignant, gently funny performances by ensemble members Kathryn Wylde and Laura Kate Marshall, stands out for its engaging, well-characterized story and satisfying finish.
Quality ensemble and staging
The uneven quality of the plays ends up emphasizing the solid ensemble work. Jordan Hunter-Fidalgo in particular brings a graceful realism to each of her scenes, and Marshall brings the widest range to a variety of roles. Craig Storrod, with his mobile, evocative expressions, shines in Moore’s One Saturday Night, a visit to a north woods bar that otherwise manages to be both inscrutable and banal. (The recent Philadelphia Metro issue featuring this production on the cover was self-consciously inserted into the stage business in this performance, which distracted from the setting.)
Bowersox and Moore team up to direct their focused and committed cast with a sure hand, achieving nimble transitions between the plays, which are realized with successfully minimal props, set, and costume touches.
Fresh Ink Shorts sums up a lot of what appeals about the best Fringe tickets: new work, an ambitious format, and professional artists in an intimate setting at an accessible price (pay-what-you-can in advance or at the door). Being a forum for the founders’ work isn’t exactly a ground-breaking mission for a theater company, but if TheatreXP can lend its skills to a wider range of voices in the future (out of 11 Fresh Ink plays, Moore’s is the only one written by a woman), I’ll keep this Philly arrival on the radar.
What, When, Where
Fresh Ink Shorts. By R. T. Bowersox, Melody G. Moore, Stephen Olsen, and Neal Ruchman; directed by Bowersox and Moore. Pay-what-you-can. Through September 18, 2022, at the Skinner Studio at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
The show advertises a mask requirement, but it is not enforced.
The Skinner Studio is a third-floor venue accessible only by several flights of stairs.
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