Three short plays made up the bill of Screaming Venus's latest one-act festival, at the Milagro Theatre. Individually, the pieces have something important to say. Collectively, the only thing they seem to have in common is that appearances can be deceiving.
The first play, Anthropophagus, by Henry Guzman, is actually a substitution for another play, The Tale of McBooney Murch. We are in a bar, in the company of a very vivacious (and verbal) vixen. As performed by Mariana Carreno, the woman at the bar was all accent and attitude, sipping wine while touching on topics such as fairy tales, religion, and cannibalism. Under the straightforward direction of Elysa Marden, Carreno made some of Guzman's strong points even stronger, and all three were rewarded for their efforts with generous applause at the playlet's curtain.
The next play is as far away from happy hour as one can get. Actress Carreno turns playwright with Pitahayas, transporting viewers to a remote desert cottage. An elderly woman (Annie Henk, a young actress transformed by mask work) is visited by a young man (Carlo Alban) who appears to be a rebel soldier returning from the front. He seeks his former life and finds it in her -- but it is not the happy ending he intended. Both performers did a fine job under Marden's evocative direction.
Our Father's House, by Chance Muehleck, is another case of deceptive appearances. In a very strange household, the lady of the house is having a very strange day. She is disgusted by her husband -- who is seemingly normal -- and attracted to a military leader -- who is inwardly and outwardly hideous. Speaking of hideous, her violence-prone son and sexually overactive daughter are terrible brats, who run amuck around the house. And the maid is completely muddled. They are so worked up about the harmless patriarch that they don't notice the monster in their midst. Only after a fateful decision is made does the wolf in wolf's clothing come out to feast upon his misguided victims. Each of the ensemble of courageous players -- Nicol Cole, Tommy Walsh, Erin Walls, Angela Dee, Derek P. Miller, and James Nocito (who convincingly mangled his face and body into a monstrous disfigurement) -- jumped into this surreal swimming pool with both feet, coaxed through the comedic chaos by director Melanie S. Armer.
Technical aspects of the evening were minimal. Lighting by Jay Sterkel helped set the mood of each piece, as did Michael Iveson's eclectic sound design. Michael Lenaghan contributed the appropriate set pieces, going the extra mile for the clever setting of Our Father's House.
The odd nature of each piece (the caustic confrontation of the first character, the masked mystery of the second act, and the general outrageousness of the third play) might have kept audiences at arm's length, but the emotional levels of the actors were strong enough to still make a solid connection.
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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac