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The most successful 10-minute plays in Source Festival’s showcase “Rites of Passage” can be distilled to simple dramatic conflict: Man vs. mobile phone. Man vs. mascot. Man vs. polar bear. Woman vs. quantum physics. If dramaturg Aaron Yost is asking the audience to play a little fast and loose with the understood meaning of a rite of passage, fair enough. These six plays are not about religious or cultural rituals, but merely life-changing moments.

Culling from hundreds of submissions, the producers of Source have grouped the shorts into three evenings, each with a theme that broadly corresponds to one of the festival’s full-length plays. In the case of “Rites of Passage,” it pays off. The program passes muster as both a showcase of individual plays and a comprehensive presentation.

The show gets off to a humorous start with Phone Tree by Daniel Heath. Mitch is a man alone—-experiencing technical difficulties with his phone that have brought him to the brink of desperation.  Christian Sullivan writhes with frustration to great comedic effect. When tech support connects him to a sentient algorithm, Mitch gets a lesson in patience. His character arch might not constitute a rite of passage, but anyone who’s ever cursed their technology and prayed for more grace under pressure will appreciate the interaction.

In Jason Gray Platt‘s Cyanocitta, a man returns to the sidelines of his high school football field and winds up philosophizing with the mascot, a Blue Jay. (Cyanocitta is a genus of New World jays.) The notion of high school as the perfect social petri dish for playing out Darwin’s theories is not the most original, but the script does offer one satisfying reveal. As a transformative process, high school counts, as does coming to terms with the memories of that time.

Be What You Wish to Seem takes on issues of discontentment too complex to work into a conflict that must play out in 10 minutes. Jonathan Spector‘s script is an unusual and thought-provoking mix of surrealism and pointed dialogue. Every word his characters employ exposes their selfishness, even as they attempt to evolve as people. Neelam Patel, Jenny Donovan, and Julian Gordon give his dialogue the right pitch, but this play felt like a chapter of a longer story.

The conflict at the top of act 2 very believably plays out in the short running time. Exposure by Walt McGough pits a young man in search of manly courage against a hungry mamma polar bear who likes to play with her prey.  As with all three plays in this act, the stakes are nothing short of life and death, and this story speaks clearly to the theme of the evening. Exposure makes a brief but strong statement about dignity and bravery.

As you may be able to guess from the title, the two men in The Cliff have picked a bad spot for a heated debate.  Nelson Diaz-Marcano is in thematic territory many in the audience will have seen before. But what the play lacks in novelty, it makes up with the clarity and economy of Diaz- Marcano’s dialogue. He knows how to put a button on a scene, and Arden Moscati delights in delivering what for me was the most memorable line of the night. (But no spoilers!)

Cullen T.M. McGough’s Collider is a sweet note on which to end.Set in a cafeteria at Cern Laboratory, two scientists meet moments prior to activation of the Large Hadron Collider.  Actually, the collider turns on a bunch of times, with each instance yielding a different set of string-theory-inspired results. Rachael Murray and Raven Bonniwell keep a quick pace and lend charm to the shifts of character from vignette to vignette. (Also, keep an eye on Kyle Encinas‘ costume changes. Designers Janet Minichiello and Lauren Cucarola deserve credit for storytelling via the strategic use of T shirts.) I can’t vouch for the accuracy of McGough’s physics, but he posits that love is the great unifying theory, and the possibility is one I’m happy to entertain.

Photo by C. Stanley/Courtesy Source