Theater Review - Clock stopper

The beauty of 8 1/2 x 11 is its brevity. The city’s “most dangerous” play festival, produced annually by Dad’s Garage Theatre, pits nine short plays against an onscreen digital timer, keeping all but the last one under 11 minutes and limiting the final to just five-and-a-half. By the time you get sufficiently bored (or enamored, or annoyed) with a segment, it’s over.

Folks who’ve seen previous incarnations of 8 1/2 x 11 might expect the madcap revelry that the Dad’s crew is famous for, but this year’s show more often mixes the laughter with squirms. At least two of the plays leave the audience cringing a collective “ewww” at their finish.

Valerie Jean Johnson’s “Your Typical, Everyday, Lighthearted, Romantic Comedy” finds a pedophile (Michael Terrazas) practicing pick-up lines at a playground. The piece won the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival’s Ten Minute Play Competition and perhaps gives a glimpse of things to come as Dad’s national reputation grows.

The clock can’t run out fast enough for the “Da Tree Graces,” which sets a freaky familial conversation in a john. Written by Del Hamilton of 7 Stages, the piece swims in non sequiturs and gag-inducing scatological visuals.

Oddly enough, 8 1/2 x 11’s two best segments may be the ones without dialogue. Zoetic Dance Ensemble’s “Drag” starts slowly, but soon wows with its sexy, melancholy gyrations. “When Dignity is Lost, Many Options Open Up” follows a workaday stiff (Wade Tilton) as he struggles to make it to the office on time. Directed by Montica Pas of VisionQuest Theater, the piece plays like a frantic Tex Avery cartoon set to a David Bowie soundtrack.

Though 8 1/2 x 11 works as a fascinating cross-section of Atlanta theater talent (with PushPush, Theater Emory and others represented), that spirit of collaboration is undermined by the video interludes shown between segments. They begin as quippy observations from some of the personalities behind the production, but later clips become shameless commercials for Dad’s Garage improv comedy and classes. Riffs on “Masterpiece Theatre” in the first and final clips do warrant laughs, but the bits are mostly wasted filler in a show that hinges on its succinctness.

8 1/2 x 11 runs through Feb. 22. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. $15-$20. Dad’s Garage Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. 404-523-3141.