Playwright K.K. Gordon, second from right, and the cast of “Dancing, Dancing Came the Dead.”
Playwright K.K. Gordon has been known to run with some deliciously dark characters. Frankenstein’s monster. A couple of supernatural sisters. Not to mention zombies. But once in a while, even a self-proclaimed “dark romantic comic” feels the need to lighten up. So Gordon is doing just that with his latest project, “Short Works from the Big Guy” produced by Scranton Public Theatre as part of its Jason Miller Playwrights Series.
“It was always part of our plan to spawn new plays from time to time and give new playwrights a forum,” director Bob Shlesinger says of SPT. “The Olde Brick [SPT’s theater] lends itself particularly well to that.”
After seeing one of Gordon’s short plays at another venue, Shlesinger contacted the playwright to talk about him doing some work for SPT.
“One thing led to another, and here we are trying to bring attention to the Playwrights Series,” Shlesinger says.
“Short Works from the Big Guy” is a collection of four 10-page plays inspired by a short play festival held annually by the Actors Theatre of Louisville in Louisville, Ky.
“Everybody doing real serious stuff off-Broadway right now starts in Louisville,” says Gordon.
Though his last two plays “Dancing, Dancing Came the Dead” and “Wicked West” have been full-length works, he’s enjoying the special challenge of the 10-page format.
“It’s like theatrical haiku,” he says. “In 10 pages, you have to get the same work done you do in a two-act play. It requires a lot of discipline.”
Gordon’s discipline during the writing process should translate into plenty of fun for the audience. The evening begins with “Flesh Easters of Hyde Park,” a comedy about a young man who fancies himself the last international playboy and the travel companion who tries to put things in perspective. Expect cameos from the likes of Julia Child, Sigmund Freud, Mel Gibson and the Queen of England.
“The fourth wall comes down in this one completely,” Gordon says. “I know I wrote it, but it really is just a ton of fun.”
Next up is “Escatology That Night on Skid Row,” which tells a tale of soul-searching and a run-in with Satan himself. The piece is reminiscent of the temptation in the Garden of Eden, but it’s set far from the garden in Skid Row.
“It’s sort of a modern day morality play,” says Gordon.
Not wanting to spoil the plot, the playwright is tight-lipped about the third piece, “Finding the Inner Chuck Norris” but will admit, “Wackiness ensues all over the place in this one.”
The final piece, “Keeping Up with Jones Very,” explores the notions of artistic integrity and commercial success. It features a playwright who makes his living drawing a cartoon character, Skank the Christmas Weasel. His girlfriend thinks he’s a sellout. Financial backers for his play want him to change it into a comedy and miscast the production. There’s trouble with a casting couch. In spite of all the chaos, however, “The climax is pretty beautiful,” says Gordon.
Three of the pieces in “Short Works from the Big Guy” are directed by Shlesinger, but “Escatology” has Gordon’s long-time friend and colleague Sam Falbo making his directorial debut. The cast is a mixture of SPT regulars who are new to the playwright and actors who have brought his other works to life, a situation Gordon finds comfortable on one hand and refreshing on the other. With the experienced cast coupled with minimal set and costume requirements for the 10-page plays, the production has been low stress for the playwright.
“Compared to the big stuff, this is skipping through the park,” he says. “We do have to turn a person into a cartoon weasel; that’s the biggest challenge, I guess,” he adds, laughing.
Now Shlesinger and Gordon are hoping they can overcome the challenge of getting audiences to take a chance on original work by a local playwright.
“This area’s been trained to go to musicals and stuff that they’ve heard about, like Neil Simon,” says Shlesinger. In order to encourage patrons, SPT has decided to keep the ticket prices low.
For his part, Gordon is going to let the work speak for itself.
“It showcases the writing and the acting,” Gordon says. “It’s just pure theatre.”
And if the playwright is enjoying himself as much as he is during the production process, no doubt theatergoers will too.
“This time around, it’s a ball,” Gordon says. “This is the most plain-out fun I’ve been able to put before an audience yet.”
What: “Short Works from the Big Guy”
by K.K. Gordon
When: April 25-26, May 2-3, 9-10, 8:15 p.m.;
April 27, May 4, 2 p.m.
Where: Scranton Public Theatre at the Olde Brick Theater, Rear 128 W. Market St., Scranton