One of 2018’s left field hits was Gracie Gardner’s “Athena,” a duel between a pair of teenage fencers and the rare Off Off Broadway production to get an encore staging (both runs were at Jack in Brooklyn).
And that was only the tip of the iceberg for Ms. Gardner, who also had several one-acts on the boards last year, including “Ballgirl” at the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival and a pair of pieces as part of Ensemble Studio Theater’s Youngblood program.
Tellingly, Ms. Gardner is presenting another brief effort, “Cowboy,” in the Exponential Festival, which gathers experimental works by New York writers.
[Other festivals in January: Read about an adaptation of Sarah Kane’s “4:48 Psychosis” at Prototype: Opera/Theater/Now and Under the Radar at the Public Theater.]
“I put up weird little stuff all the time, I’m not super-precious about it,” Ms. Gardner, 27, said by phone from Los Angeles. “I just love having a single visual image onstage. Sometimes I see people expanding a one-act and usually I feel, ‘That thing is really a short piece.’”
“Cowboy,” which is part of a triple bill at Target Margin’s Doxsee Theater, Jan. 17-20, is a monologue by the titular character, who happens to be the last cowboy in the world — and is played by a different actor at each performance, including Brittain Ashford, Becca Blackwell and Dasha Nekrasova.
The trick is that the show’s running time varies between six and 20 minutes.
“It could depend on whatever the audience is feeling and responding to,” said the director, Charles Quittner, 26. “How we do the performance is pretty randomized in that things are triggered out of certain events that might happen during the show.
“The form of this actually reminds me of a Wild West show from the 19th century because this cowboy might end up doing stunts onstage,” he added. “We’re having fun with futility.”
Ms. Gardner said, “It’s sort of, God willing, this play will work. It makes me a little nervous but I think it’ll be fun,” she said. “There’s an element that’s out of everyone’s control.”
The young writer herself appears fully in control of her career, which has been on an upward swing since she won the 2017 Relentless Award for her play “P____ Sludge.” She is currently working on full-length shows for the Atlantic Theater, Manhattan Theater Club and Clubbed Thumb. In the fall she moved to California, where she is developing a project with the “Spotlight” movie director Tom McCarthy for Paramount TV. Not bad for someone who skipped the fancy M.F.A. programs her peers favor and was juggling odd jobs until recently, including working for the TV show “Mr. Robot.”
“Being a production assistant is grueling, but I was very lucky that for a while I worked on a show that was shot at night,” Ms. Gardner said. “There would be nobody in the office except for me and another woman so I was able to get a lot of writing done overnight. I also worked at a bar in NoLIta that was very slow. It was not great for tips — there were three regulars drinking spritzes — but it did mean I got a lot of writing done on my phone during shifts.”
ONE MORE EXPONENTIAL SHOW The double bill of David Perez’s “1993” and Justin Linville’s “#1 Dad,” Jan. 17 and Jan. 20 at the Brick, illustrates the melding of theater and comedy flourishing on the young New York scene.
The Exponential Festival is at various Brooklyn venues from Friday through Feb. 3; 917-520-5912; theexponentialfestival.org.
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