In the sometimes-grandiose world of theater - endless monologues, three-act historical epics, roof-lifting anthems that go on and on - a little pithiness can be refreshing now and then.
This week's two teeny-tiny theater events, the One-Minute Play Festival at Plays & Players and the Get Into Our Shorts Play Festival at the Painted Bride Art Center, crunch large theatrical constructs and elaborate themes into tapas-size snacks - 30 minutes and under for the Bride's shorts fest, its first, and, yup, 60 seconds for Philly's third annual One-Minute fest.
The latter is the local incarnation of the national One-Minute Play Festival, which is based in New York and helps organize festivals in cities all over the country.
Its artistic director, Dominic D'Andrea, says his company acts "barometrically," touching on the zeitgeist while reflecting each partner city's news and views through theater practitioners of varied race, gender, age, and career experience.
"What started as a challenge for an artistic community at a small Brooklyn theater - so small, with our group so large we had to keep half of our actors across the street at the bar and switch them out at intermission - has grown to 1,200 playwrights, 24 national partnerships, and about 1,000 new plays every three to four months nonstop 12 months every year," D'Andrea says.
Each local festival, he says, "is an opportunity to look at our relationships to one another, to our community, to our work, to our activism, and to our civic duty."
On top of all that serious stuff, he adds, it's fun. "We need funny ways into engaging with the harshness of the world where we are now. We're in a tense, transitional, radically self-examining time as a nation."
D'Andrea began partnering with Philadelphia, its playwrights, and its directors three years ago, at Seth Rozin's InterAct Theatre. Its third Philly iteration is, for D'Andrea, one long show: "Think of it as choral in nature: 80 moments by 40 playwrights and 11 directors, presented as a singular project."
In their very short plays, Philly's playwrights and directors talk about race, economics, politics, social issues, gentrification, class, rights, and citizenship. D'Andrea reports that Philly is more on-trend with other cities on topics of race, class, rights as the national debate on these issues has heated up. "It's as fascinating as it is understandable."
"Philly is always very political, very Philly-specific - especially in the conversations about neighborhoods so pointed that only local audiences will get them," he notes. "Oh, and you guys talk about food a lot."
Playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger (Slip/Shot, The Terrible Girls, Skin & Bone), a One-Minute veteran, calls the festival a gift, offering viewers and writers a productive, positive way to explore local concerns - briefly.
"It's a bracing challenge for the artists to distill the core of an idea or a moment in a minute," says Goldfinger, whose two "moments" in this fest deal with her new struggles with parenthood. "These plays force us to strengthen our muscle translating dramatic thought into immediate and visceral dramatic action."
The Painted Bride Arts Center got into short-form theater when marketing manager LaNeshe Miller-White began a reading series for local playwrights as well as the Bride's Souls of Black Folks series, which brings theater practitioners and other artists together to create pieces around the theme of a text.
"When I sent out guidelines, I noted that playwrights and directors have to be up for collaboration," says Miller-White, who partnered with the Philadelphia Dramatist Center for the fest.
"The ultimate purpose of the shorts fest is new-play development. Playwrights have to be open to changes or the vision of the director, and directors must keep playwrights in the loop so they have the ability to make changes as they see their work on its feet with actors." Her other prerequisite was that a play "break theatrical norms, be it a unique casting choice or unexpected plot points."
Rebecca Cureton, a Villanova University theater department vet, is directing Dan McGlaughlin's "Love: An Autopsy." She calls it an absurd postmortem analysis of construction and deconstruction of relationships: "Even Chekhov makes an appearance to guide the process, as the stage serves as a laboratory to dissect these trials and tribulations."
Leah Lawler's five-character "Exzilla" looks at how distrust breeds creativity in the mind of a person in love. A new playwright - her Tropes & Platitudes was produced at Bucks County Playhouse's New Voices Festival last spring - she wrestled with the short form. "Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, but consequently the form forces you to get to the heart of the piece sooner, sometimes clumsily. I tried to combat the clumsiness with humor and self-awareness."
One-Minute boss D'Andrea thinks the key to enjoying short forms is to stop thinking about them as short. "It misses the point," he says. "They are simply moments. When good, they suggest a world much wider than a tiny frame . . . and together tell a bigger story."
GOT A FEW MINUTES? TRY A PLAY, OR TWO
One-Minute Play Festival
8 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday at the Plays & Players Theatre,
1714 Delancey Place.
Information: 866-811-4111 or www.playsandplayers.org.
Get Into Our Shorts
7 p.m. Monday-Thursday at the Painted Bride Arts Center,
220 Vine St.
Information: 215-925-9914 or www.paintedbride.org.