It’s certainly the most dramatic way that I have ever been told to silence my cell-phone before a performance. Brown Couch Theatre’s third annual ten-minute play festival, “Tempting Fate, ” begins with an effective parody of teen slasher-flick “Scream” in which a dim-witted blonde (frosted-blonde, no less) is terrorized into turning off her noisy gadget. This smart vignette grabs your attention, sets up a conflict (however absurd) and ultimately makes its point. And it’s entertaining. Sadly, it’s not one of the official ten plays, only one of which subsequently achieves a noticeable level of ingenuity, theatricality or resonance. That piece, “The Miraculous Day Quartet” by Los Angeles playwright Mary Steelsmith, about destiny and four plane-crash survivors, is the only festival offering that features a complex (and non-literal) exploration into the notion of superstition, the evening’s unifying theme. As directed by Marcus Kamie, it is an arresting piece of visual and verbal theatre that resonates with post-9/11 social and racial implications. During its short theatrical life of 600 seconds it nonetheless presents the full theatrical experience: compelling stories, memorable characters and important ideas. The remaining lot of plays is mostly comprised of cute, sentimental comedies, but seldom does the writing rise above the level of crowd-pleasing safe. But even if the festival is a disappointment, it’s an important one that gives a much-needed public platform for playwrights’ voices. I can only hope that next year they will be more inspired. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Chicago Actors’ Studio, 1567 N. Milwaukee, (312)409-2010. Thu-Sat 7:30pm/Sun 3pm. $12-$15. Through Aug 13.