Clever collection

Completely Unrelated Stories 2002

Michael J. Neff and Alex Sleep
Directed by Christopher Petit, Devin Scott, & Patrick Wang
The Collective
The Neighborhood Playhouse
340 East 54th St.
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Elias Stimac

The Collective's 2nd Annual Short Play Festival, featuring new plays by three writers and staging by six directors, has many individual elements that shine. One of the pieces is destined for further productions, some of them were enjoyable, and a few one-joke sketches provided a momentary diversion.

The evening began with The Rites of Spring by Stephen Gardella. It is a sister-scene with a sinister twist -- older sibling Amy (Lauren Gallagher) is excited about becoming a sacrificial virgin to the gods, while younger teen Steph (Mary Donnelly) envies big sis's good fortune. John McCullough's lively direction of Gardella's comical script played it straight, giving the surprise maximum impact. The story continued at the end of the evening with Mongulla's Wrath, a followup that features the arrival of an angry deity (Gregory Konow) in a campy characterization. All three actors got laughs in the book-end pieces.

Writer Gardella also contributed several other shorts to the evening. The Trojan Horse Program treads a similar course as Rites, in that an archaic social practice is introduced into today's humdrum world. In this case, it's the titular war tactic that gets a literal spin as two government agents (David Bartlett and James Murray) interrogate a seemingly harmless computer programmer (author Gardella). Michael Nathanson staged the scene effectively, although the script needs to be tightened. The trio of actors dove into their characters with comic abandon.

Gardella's The Death of John Robertson proves that some dramatic reflections of the 9/11 tragedy are not appropriate, at least not yet. Nathanson directed this monologue about a Trade Tower worker caught in the bathroom at the time of the attack. Devin Scott did a credible job as a likeable employee, but was hard to appreciate given the uncomfortably morbid premise. Not helping matters was the cautionary preachiness of the piece.

Playwright Gardella completely redeemed himself in Act Two, with Horribly, Horribly Average. Hilariously staged by Jeffrey Thomas, this potent play about the trials and tribulations of the audition process will be a mainstay for acting classes and one-act fests. Jennifer Williams, Tim Rock, and director Thomas combined to make the scene a hysterical, memorable winner.

Gardella explores the dark side again with All You Need to Know, as Patrick Zeller and Jamie Bonelli played out the events of a relationship gone bad in reverse. An ineffective strobe rewinds the scene from their last night together to their first meeting, watering down the intensity of the action. Director Patrick Wang gives the scene a slick polish, and the actors create some quick chemistry in the short sequences.

Two offerings from other playwrights complete the one-act bill. Alex Sheep provides a thought-provoking but ultimately unsatisfying dramatic look at a couple in crisis in "Evening Static." The trouble is, the crisis appears to be all in the head of the male (Michael Friedman), who suspects the female (Sandra Andreis) of infidelity without much proof. Devin Scott directs the duo in this drawn-out delusional dance.

Michael J. Neff's "March to the Sea" is also about infidelity, but told in an excitingly unique format. Christopher Petit has staged the play with a terrific sense of invention and tension, as one man named Lee (Jonathan Scialabba) and another named Sherman (Thomas E. Griffin) converse in a bar to each other -- but at different times. They also take turn's visiting one of the men's wife. Needless to say there's no happy ending here.

On the technical front, actor Konow creatively handled the set construction under the tech direction of Bree Wellwood.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1