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DEATH TELLS US OF LIFE IN 3 PLAYS

As its title suggests, Triage: The Mortality Plays is about death, but the three one-act plays that mark the debut of the Blue Scarf Collective are really more about relationships. Each play focuses on the intimate interaction between two characters.

Blue Scarf was formed by three women to stage their own work. Roxanne Fay's Aftermath, which opens the program, portrays an existential encounter between Christopher Rutherford, as a nerdy death scene cleanup man, and the ghost of a suicide victim, played by Lynne Locher as a woman who just got tired of life.

Aleshea Harris' Big Trick is the longest (around 40 minutes) and most abstract play. The unlikely scenario has hipster Genevieve (Destiny Ramsey) guarding a death row inmate named Mala (Carla Johnson) who claims she is part cat. Mala conducts a passionate kind of seance to put her keeper in touch with the feline side of her personality, to no avail. "Maybe I've got a dog spirit instead," Genevieve says.

All three plays are well acted, but What Remains by Heather L. Jones especially benefits from the sharply honed comic performances of Harris and Millie Anne Shipe as a pair of grifters scheming to rip off an elderly woman of her vintage possessions. "Cool is cool, and that's a fact" is their crackpot mantra.

There is a grass roots, let's-put-on-a-show earnestness to the Blue Scarf production, which drew a small crowd Wednesday night in the downstairs space of the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. The audience changed seats for each of the bare-bones sets, highlighted by the rope-and-metal prison cell of Big Trick. Feminist theatergoers can take heart, as five of the six roles are for women.

Triage: The Mortality Plays transfers to Ybor City for shows at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Creative Loafing Event Space, 1911 N 13th St., Tampa. $15. (813) 739-4800; tampa.creativeloafing.com.

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A campaign is under way to try to restore some arts funding to the Hillsborough County budget. The county plans to eliminate funding to the Arts Council of Hillsborough County for cultural development grants in fiscal year 2011. In the current fiscal year, the council distributed more than $300,000 to 25 organizations ranging from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts (an award of $20,992) to the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay ($11,295) to Moving Current Dance Collective ($8,068).

"It really is going to be a major crisis for arts organizations without any cultural development grants," says Art Keeble, executive director of the council.

A petition to save the grants program that has so far gathered more than 1,000 signatures will be presented to commissioners Thursday when they have a workshop at 1:30 p.m. and a public hearing at 6 p.m. on the budget, which must be finalized by Sept. 15. To see the petition, go to ipetitions.com/petition/saveartscouncil2010funding.

Funding for the Hillsborough cultural development grants program has steadily declined since its peak of $819,000 in 2006.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

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