“Roller coasters are my favorite!” a character exclaims as he sits onboard a climbing, plunging amusement-park ride in “This Is the Big One,” a 10-minute drama featured in this year’s Source Festival. The remark may strike a chord with hearers: After all, a festival that focuses on new works can be like a roller coaster, with abrupt, vertiginous ups and downs. People who attend such events may have a tolerance for variability.
But dependable attractions are much in evidence at this year’s Source Festival, running through July 2. To start with, in honor of the festival’s 10th year, the lineup includes a new production of Topher Payne’s “Perfect Arrangement.” After debuting at the Source Festival in 2013, the play went on to national success, including a major award and an off-Broadway run.
Set in a Georgetown duplex in 1950, “Perfect Arrangement” tells of two gay couples who have worked out marriages of convenience with each other so as to pass as straight. Bob and Millie Martindale (Jon Reynolds and Danielle Scott) appear to be the next-door neighbors of Jim and Norma Baxter (Jack Novak and Mary Myers). In fact, Bob and Jim are partners, as are Millie and Norma. The masquerade allows the four to maintain a comfortable private domesticity — until the State Department, where Bob and Norma work, embarks on a purge of suspected homosexuals. (The play is based on the real events of the Lavender Scare.)
On opening night this month, director Nick Martin’s production displayed a few moments of hesitation and stiffness, suggesting that the actors were still acclimatizing to their roles. Still, the action clipped along at a pleasantly brisk pace, honoring both the play’s bubbly comedy and its serious themes. In a fun touch, every now and then a stretch of dialogue, or a stage picture, would archly echo 1950s sitcoms and advertisements.
Scott and Myers are particularly persuasive as the ebullient but canny Millie and the wearier, more cynical Norma. In a smaller role, Toni Rae Salmi displays ace comic timing as Barbara Grant, a State Department translator who knows her own mind. Jessica Cancino designed the set, a bright, decorous 1950s living room — an ideal spot for serving cocktails and canapés.
“Perfect Arrangement” isn’t the only festival offering to reprise the tried-and-true. Of the two 10-minute play showcases, one revives some of the best short scripts from the past decade. I caught the other showcase: an enjoyable group of six playlets with the umbrella title “Covert Catalyst.” Highlights include “This Is the Big One,” Chelsea Marcantel’s artful portrait of six people who experience a roller coaster in drastically different ways. (Kevin Boudreau plays the aforementioned fan.)
Also delightful is local playwright John Bavoso’s “Threat Level: Cream,” a droll and twisty tale of two Washingtonians (Chloe Mikala and Jonathan M. Rizzardi) who encounter a suspicious gallon of milk on the Metro.
A couple of the “Covert Catalyst” pieces are slyly political. For instance, in Lori Fischer’s bold, surreal “Gotta Gethere Whatever Itakes Versus Mr. Chaos,” two people (Zoe Walpole and Carol Spring) are so shocked by an election that they embark on a nonstop jumping routine, essentially aiming to bounce their way to utopia.
The festival also includes two “artistic blind dates,” collaborations between artists of different disciplines. This reviewer cannot attest to the quality of the readings or blind dates. But bracing for the ride can be part of the fun.
Source Festival Through July 2 at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets: $15-$32. Call 866-811-4111 or visit sourcefestival.org.