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Legit event mixed thesps, scribes in hasty creative process

HOLLYWOOD — With his playlet closing “The 24-Hour Plays” at the Henry Fonda Theater, Bruce Vilanch seemed a bit stunned as the lights came up.

Perhaps, as he said, it was just amazement at seeing it staged for the first time. More likely, he was kicking himself for having been the only one of the six scribes to take the 10-minute rule seriously.

Six 10-minute plays. With a 15-minute intermission. Yet somehow, including starting half an hour late, the evening ended up running three hours. Obviously, someone cheated.

The title “24-Hour Plays” wasn’t meant to imply the length of the evening, though it came close. Instead, it explains the gimmick of the fundraiser, which raised $20,000 (in ticket sales) for the World Trade Center Relief Fund.

As producer Tina Fallon explained, the playwrights and actors gathered on the evening of Feb. 23 and split up into groups. The scribes then retired to write, drawing on both props and tales offered by their stars. They returned to the Fonda at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 24 to rehearse until 5 p.m., when the tech rehearsals started; they wrapped 10 minutes before the supposed 8 p.m. curtain time.

Playwrights were Beth Henley, Hilly Hicks, John Belluso, Alexandra Cunningham, Neil LaBute and Vilanch. Belluso was the only one of the six to include Sept. 11 as part of his play, which featured Seth Green, Jared Harris, Gina Phillips and Adam Nelson. LaBute offered his usual shtick, oddly repulsive stories of decadent human behavior, with the added twist that his four actors — Clark Gregg, Devon Gummersall, Portia de Rossi and Brooke Smith — purported to tell “true” stories based on their own histories, but assigned to a different person than the one whose story it was.

Also, they claimed one of the four was made up. But, of course, the joke was on the audience: See, they’re actors, and it’s their job to lie to us — all four were fake! Big surprise.

Thank goodness for the reliably humorous Vilanch. In his “It Only Happens When I’m Nervous,” John Ritter played an actor hoping to audition for “Urinetown,” the title of which he could hardly bring himself to utter.

Instead, he found himself up for “Puppetry of the Penis,” demonstrating his talent to Sarah Silverman as a lustful stage manager and Ann Magnuson as a rather peculiar producer.

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