Sometimes the appetite calls for small bites, like the collection of one-act plays on offer during Playzapalooza! 2019 at the Santa Paula Theater Center through June 9. The eight plays, each running about 15 minutes apiece, range from the poignant to the absurd. Some works give us more to chew on than others, but together they offer a refreshing evening of theater, set in the intimate space of SPTC’s Backstage. 

There isn’t an obvious theme to the plays other than that most are written by California playwrights. The overriding sense, however, is that humans are complicated. We’re funny “haha” and funny “weird.” Our emotions and relationships are fraught, tender, hilarious and fragile, often at the same time. (One play does feature characters of other species but thanks to the wonder of anthropomorphism, they’re just as bonkers as we are.) It’s juicy territory to mine, especially within the confines of short one-act plays. 

Blue Bench, written by Aleks Merilo and directed by Leticia Mattson, takes place in the shadows of the circus. Abraham M. Peyton is very good as a boy who meets a masked man, played to great effect by Sean Neil. Their exchange is a lovely dance of emotions that treads between a sense of danger and a spark of magic. 

Michael Higgins’s The Chip, directed by Leslie Vitanza, presents a darkly comic scenario of viral media run amuck. Tammy Mora plays Rebissa, a struggling artist who has found an interesting solution to the high cost of living. Promising newcomer Michael Adams is Vander, a suitor who wants to keep things real. 

Tammy Mora is also featured in The Action Hero’s Wife (also written by Higgins). She directs and stars in this interesting take on modern-day crime and superhero dramas. It also stars Sergio Arias, Bill Mattson and Leslie Vitanza and Leticia Mattson in a shared role.

Tempus Fugit, again directed by Mora, ponders the ramifications of time travel. In the work by Greg Atkins, Penni T. Blum and Jadzia Winter play the same woman at different stages of life. Sergio Arias is adorable as her husband, who has a difficult decision to make.  

Greg Atkins also wrote Bunnies, which stars Sean Neil as a none-too-bright bank robber, and Bill Mattson as the sheriff sent to bring him in. On its face, the play is classic cops and robbers, but it proves to be much more. 

Leticia Mattson and Angela DeCicco star in The Window, written by Tristen Canfield and directed by Leslie Vitanza. The actors are wonderful as unique frenemies with very different perspectives. 

Nearly Departed by Michael Waterson is about a man contemplating his mortality when he meets a mysterious stranger. Scott Blanchard has never been better, and one can feel the joy Marilyn Lazik has in playing her role.

Capping off the evening is Runed, written by Jonathan Josephson and directed by Elixeo Flores. Doug Friedlander, Sergio Arias, Scott Blanchard and Angela DeCicco have great fun in this absurdist farce. 

SPTC’s Backstage proves that a small stage can be mighty. Playzapalooza! feels bright and fresh, brought to life by the collective sweat and spirit of its cast and crew. Other than lead lighting designer Allan Noel, tech-lights by Douglas Learn and lead costumer Leticia Mattson, local theater group Creature Company is credited with much of the work. Together they create characters and stories that feel real and honest, and we’re lucky to go along for the ride. 

Playzapalooza! 2019 through June 9 Backstage at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 South Seventh Street, Santa Paula. For more information, call 805-525-4645 or visit www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.