The media circus around a fictional L.A. terror attack is the subject of Timothy Guillot’s “The Word and the Wasteland,” but the play isn’t the only thing — not the way the Source Festival runs these days. You can catch a six-pack of 10-minute plays and a mixed-media mashup on media/digital discontents, and the deep dive is a stimulating approach.
This month’s festival creates different thematic “tracks” springing from three new plays — Guillot’s, plus Rebecca Bossen’s “Blue Straggler” and Kelly Lusk’s “(a love story),” each with its own suite of 10-minute plays and “artistic blind dates.” Guillot’s fantasia of a terrorist suspect speaking through a rising YouTube poet inspired a “Mistakes and Media” track. That track’s three facets look like this:
“The Word and the Wasteland” is an odd procedural about two FBI detectives trying to pry information from a man they believe blew up L.A.’s Disney Hall. The suspect won’t talk, except through a poet he’s never met. Obviously, this bizarre pairing devours the news. But will it help the detectives (or journalists) uncover any facts?
The play is a clash of languages: cliched investigative patter, breathless “breaking news” updates and, yes, poetry! The two bickering detectives (a veteran male with a hot temper vs. a patient female newcomer) feels hackneyed and eventually even off the point. The logic of these characters and their investigation may be something Guillot hones for future productions, which it ought to have, in part because the poetry-driven kicker at the end is so good.
The video updates overlapping on three screens feel true enough as reporters and grandstanding pundits grapple for the moral high ground. Somehow director Joshua W. Kelley (or someone) has recruited 20 or so people to play these anchors and commentators on camera.
The intensely familiar subject gets more interesting the more ways you look at it. The 10-minute plays branch out into sometimes disposable whimsies about how we lose track of reality; Alyssa Wilden’s “Prince and Rapunzel” has some funny moments as an online Rapunzel hunts for a date and speaks in emojis even when an actual person steps into her apartment.
Ten-minute plays tend to be jokey, so there’s one about a guy who dies walking into a wall as he fiddles with his phone, plus John Yunker’s wry and tidy “The Sales Rank Also Rises,” about a competitive writing couple manipulating their online profiles. Lucas Kruger’s “The Sad Funeral” more soberly looks at two people whose relationship is the collateral damage of an American beheaded in the Middle East and the news coverage of that atrocity.
The view is torqued most unusually in the artistic blind date, a gentle and even jaunty reminder of how we rush to fill in storytelling blanks. “Narrative the Build We” lasts only about 25 minutes; it’s created and thoughtfully performed by composer Ashi Day, visual artist Bruce McKraig and director Abby Zan. What’s up with the questions you have to answer on your way up to the rehearsal studio where this is staged? You’re not always sure. But as they puzzle together a puckish non-story (on deadline, naturally), you get the gist of how selective and even debatable our choices can be whenever we frame tales and reports.
None of this is shatteringly new, but for such hot-out-of-the-oven works, very little is abrasive/hectoring or annoyingly naive, either, and if you’re game for it the sustained exploration draws you in. (Every festival has to create its own hook; without the group context, none of these installments would be as satisfying.) The festival continues for two more weeks, with two more “tracks”: “Science and Soul Mates” around Bossen’s “Blue Straggler,” and “Love and Botany” around Lusk’s “(a love story).”
Source Festival through June 28 at Source Black Box, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets: $10-$20. 866-811-4111 or www.sourcefestival.org.