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Lisa Joy Raffety, (left), and Kate Cares explore the ups and downs of Speed Date

Life and love in 10-minute bites

When Brown Couch initiated an annual 10-minute play festival in 2003, they selected nine plays out of a mere 28 submissions. This year's judges faced a greater challenge: to pick the 10 best of 348 offerings.

Bravo for terrific choices, produced with imagination, humor and sensitivity, and directed and acted with consummate skill.

Playwrights from Australia and Canada answered the call, as well as those from throughout the U.S. Although all explore what happens during the mating game -- before, during and after two people connect -- the approaches are as vivid and varied as the authors. None are predictable, much is warm and touching, and in spite of their brevity, many are able to go beyond a slice of life to offer a well-rounded story.

One of the best of these highly entertaining plays (a very difficult choice) is "Speed Date," by Carol White. Kate Cares plays Mrs. Andrews, the lady running the speed dating session, while Lisa Joy Raffety gives an outstanding performance as Susan, the would-be dater. As she circles her chair, and sits down anew each time to introduce herself to potential dates, she progresses from shy Susan to more vivid Sue, then to Susie, and finally to Suzette, each time embellishing her accomplishments and job description in a vivid, memorable performance, with an unexpected and heartwarming result.

Other highlights include: "Ambience Pizza," by Adam Szymkowicz, in which actors Anne Korajczyk and Peter Kersten, exquisitely nail down the shyness of a young waitress and her customer, trying to break through their inhibitions and make a date.

"Ariel" provides quite a surprise twist as Eric Lee, John Oster, and Sara Ritz create characters who explore the magic of both real and inflatable loves.

In "Saturday Night Newtown, Sunday Morning Enmore," by Alex Broun, the morning after a one-night stand provides actors Mark Pracht and Kyra Lewandowski with characters who fantasize what might have been (and might still be).

"Getting to Know You," by Kendall Gray, is the most brutal of the plays -- going far beyond the title as Kate Cares, Robert Dennison, Torey Adkins, and Pam Tierney work on discovering just how faithful Kate's character has been in the past as a predictor of her future relationships.

Trey Edge and Dane Mehringer sensitively portray a paid male escort and a blind straight "customer" in Charles Hall's "Sightlines," and the evening is rounded out by a look at an older couple: Pam Tierney as a widow and Frank Murphy as a divorced man who tentatively reach out to each other in "Six Bottles of Heineken After the Silverado," by E.M. Lewis.

What a delicious range and emotional treat -- from laughter to tears! I can hardly wait for next year!

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