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This 24/7 thing is theater on the edge — and thrilling

The 24/7 thing is to your usual evening of short plays what a poetry slam is to an academic poetry reading. It's like pulling an all-nighter for a final, and the final is — ta-da! — a production of a new play.

At 8 Sunday night in Medford, seven playwrights were given rules for writing a new play. They drew the names of volunteer casts and musicians from a hat. Monday morning the seven writers handed seven brand-new one-act plays over to seven directors and 27 actors. At 8 Monday evening, with a spirited crowd nearly filling the main level of the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, actor Ray Porter introduced Ashland playwright Molly Tinsley's "After Hours at the Last Stop Cafe," and we were off.

This is theater on the edge. Tinsley's surreal, comic melodrama posits a world in which if your feet are hurting, at least you know you're not dead. It asks the question: When a mysterious, threatening woman (Caroline Shaffer) and a 30-year-old, role-playing-game-addicted man-child (Gregory Linington) named Bonnie demand haute cuisine at your diner, and Bonnie's mom shows up with an attitude, what's a tired waitress to do?

In Mitzi Miles-Kubota's "Free Zalaya!" brothers Thomas (Shad Wilingham) and Squirt (Andy Atkinson) get more than they bargain for when they release a hot genie from a centuries-old curse. The piece features an evil sorcerer named Frederick of Hollywood, a Thermos and tap-dancing.

In Michael Hume's "The Legend of Hina Tonga, a Brechtian Fable by Ellie Jasper, or Save Our Dogpark!" a play within a play tells the story of two men playing dogs Kimo and Hoku who eat, menace cats and philosophize. Then the threat of greedy developers spurs them to an encounter with Wise Woman Hina Tonga, who demands a blood sacrifice and won't settle for a sales tax.

"Suicide Circus," by Claudia Alick, finds Juggling Girl dreaming of a place on high, and the Flying Diva taking a fall from grace. The loopy circus drama involved two acrobatic brothers, one a mute, and a stuffed pink gorilla. It showed you don't monkey around with a juggler, or something.

Deadline forced this reviewer out before plays by Lisa Loomer, Stacy Rose and Mig Windows. Loomer is the author of "Distracted," a satire on a multitasking world produced last year at the OSF Ashland and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Her movie credits include "Girl, Interrupted" and other films.

The 24/7 format was invented in New York City in 1995. This one, the second in Southern Oregon, was presented by ArtWork Enterprises of Ashland and the Craterian.

In short: Fast, fast writing. Terrific acting. Good music. Deft, daffy directing. Laughs. Thrills. Amazement. OK, outta time. Gotta go. Back next year. Must. See. 24/7.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.