Mortal Coils is a program of five one-act plays centered on time-tested themes of lust, jealousy, guilt, resentment, and above all death. Playwright Frederick Stroppel tries to explore the dark corners of human emotion with an irreverent and comic touch, but these pieces seldom lived up to the modest promise of their premises. More often, they seemed like sketch comedy with delusions of grandeur.
This production contributed to the disappointment as well, with Ed Setrakian's unimaginative staging providing little support for actors who seemed to have trouble moving beyond the idea of their characters into something more fully fleshed. As most of the plays are centered on stock characters whose identities are subverted by twists of plot and situation, these failures of performance were often crippling to the intentions of the text. High-energy, slightly stylized delivery was required but rarely exhibited. Bob Adrian rattled off his lines as if his character had been planning for weeks exactly what to say. Stanley Taub's various flights of rage and frustration were only half-realized and ended up making his characters seems weak and possibly sickly rather than at their wit's end.
There were some bright spots in the performances, most notably Patricia Dodd, whose almost kabuki-like precision and sly sense of humor made Domestic Violence and After the Ball the evening's most successful pieces. Stelio Savante's absurdly enthusiastic young umpire in Judgement Call was a welcome burst of energy in a sometimes airless program.
Designers Ken Rothchild (sets) and John R. Malinowski (lights) crafted functional and flexible spaces without managing to make a lasting impression.
With a stronger cast and director, Mortal Coils would likely have seemed far more successful, but the mostly mediocre performances in this production revealed substantial flaws in the writing. Mr. Stroppel is certainly a clever writer with a flair for crafting surprising situations, and most of these plays have promise. Promise only goes so far, though, and all of these plays need to be tightened and deepened if they are to be accepted as more than cute ideas from a talented mind.
Also featured were Paul Geier and Lisa Eichorn.
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Copyright 2002 Frank Episale