Vintage meets modern in crush of short plays 1

Beth Evans, top left, wrote one of the plays The Woodside Players will perform Aug. 20, while Mafa Edwards, second from left, Allison Fradkin, Helen Yalof, Ann Morelli and Christine Grenier are all acting in them.

In a case of old world meeting new, The Woodside Players of Queens will be presenting — for one time only — a free live virtual event on Aug. 20: “Short American Plays from 1870 to Today.”

According to Johnny Culver, the artistic force behind the troupe and this special performance, the oldest play among the nine to make the final cut is “Private Boarding,” by William Cartright, which dates to 1877.

Flushing resident Martha Morenstein, one of the actors involved in the piece, describes it as a slapstick look at a boarding house and the “nutty guests” who stay there.

Morenstein said she and Culver first met back in 2009 through their mutual involvement with The Gingerbread Players, a theatrical mainstay in Forest Hills. This past year alone, since the advent of Covid-19, they’ve already done three or four virtual performances together because, as she put it, “That’s what you do.”

While admitting that performing on Zoom is nothing like the real thing — “nothing beats the energy of a live audience” — Morenstein is grateful nonetheless.

“It was an outlet,” she said, “something to look forward to, a reminder of old times.”

Another alumnus of The Gingerbread Players who will perform is Andrew Dinan of Forest Hills, who will appear in “The Second Hand Man,” which he describes as an “almost in-front-of-the-curtain routine,” a throwback to the vaudeville era.

He and his scene partner, fellow Forest Hills resident Ted Birke, yet another Gingerbread veteran, have managed to squeeze in some in-person rehearsal time and will be performing online together from a single location.

“We’re able to play off each other in a for-real kind of way,” Dinan said.

While these actors are all local, others involved in this project come from as far away as Chicago, Spokane, Wash., Texas and Indiana, Culver said. For the most part, each scene will be presented from the actors’ individual homes.

Culver personally selected most of the plays, he said, culled from many submissions. Each will have its own director, with Culver helming two, “Private Boarding” and “Jingles the Cat,” which he also wrote, just about one month ago.

“It’s set in a funeral home,” he said. “I can’t give any more away.”

The newest play scheduled to be performed has a rather intriguing title: “Three Sisters Is an Indigenous Method of Agriculture: A Scene for Zoom,” written by Beth Evans just about one week ago, Culver said.

Each piece runs around seven or eight minutes, Culver said. They will be presented in chronological order, beginning with the oldest and ending with Evans’ piece. Among the other entries are “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Doings of a Dude,” “Swing Time,” “Ski Lovers” and a monologue, “This Isn’t Drama 101, Folks!”

The performance begins at 7 p.m. It’s free and open to all. To make reservations, email woodsideplayersofqueens@gmail.com.

Culver is also involved with a virtual writing workshop for adults, which meets online on alternate Fridays from 2 to 4 p.m. The workshops bring together writers of all locations, genres and experience to share their work and receive feedback.

The public is invited to join the workshops, which are free, and are asked to bring playscripts, screenplays, stories or poems of five minutes or less in length.

Remaining workshops in the series will take place on Aug. 20 and Sept. 3 and 17. To participate, email the same address as above or call (631) 898-4205.

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