The play being rehearsed in writer Katie Walker's living room is, by all accounts, truly terrible. Two witchy sisters, Issues and Trouble, are stalking a couple along the Appalachian Trail. With a Wicked Witch of the West cackle, Issues casts a spell to — oh no! — form a blister on the girlfriend, Heidi's foot! As her boyfriend Jimi gallantly rushes to her aid, inadvertently, two cats prance through and a dog howls in the background.
But Hiking, With Issues and Trouble is awful on purpose. The Manhattan Project Cleveland Lab, a bimonthly theater workshop, tasks actor-and-writer teams to make 10-minute plays on a given theme, anything from Paul Bunyan to a Christmas pageant. Hiking was created to fit the May theme of a bad play.
"The idea is that, like the atom bomb, it's awesome and terrible," says Peter Roth, who portrayed Jimi and started the Manhattan Project about two years ago. With little to no technical elements, the plays are somewhere between a simple reading and a full one-act. Each play is staged at Mahall's 20 Lanes, with the next performance Aug. 5.
Since its inception, the Manhattan Project has become a place for misfit scripts, where writers and actors can escape from the seriousness of institutional theater.
"The actual opportunity to do a lot of writing and see actors try and do it, and see what works and doesn't work, is incredibly valuable," says Roth.
Unlike many theater series that require submission fees and are rather selective, the Manhattan Project is free and open to all. So you'll find unknown and established playwrights alike, such as Eric Coble, who wrote a script for the workshop called Dyngus Day about two African-American women trying to understand the kooky Polish tradition. That open-door policy is especially important to Roth, who struggled to get his own full-length plays produced and recently self-staged his show The Gyntish Self, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt set in a Denny's.