Third Annual Festival of One-Acts
Written by William K. Powers, Tony Zertouche, Robert Askins
Directed by Holli Harms, Marlo Hunter, Lindsay Goss
Produced by Lindsay Goss
Living Image Arts (www.livingimagearts.org)
The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row
Equity Showcase (closes April 21)
Review by Samantha O’Brien
The slanted wall that provides the backdrop for Committed, a trio of one-act plays on relationships, is slightly off-center. Instead of a linear, left-to-right presentation, the wall comes slightly downstage at a diagonal. The set is rather fitting for a show that turns normality on its head. Sometimes, this quirky approach succeeds, especially in the hilariously endearing Men Are Pigs. At other times, however, the experiment implodes and leaves a melodramatic mess like Boxes. Like the angled wall, Committed’s one-acts follow a descending slope from strong to weak drama.
Men Are Pigs is a romantic comedy that tries to explain the origins of sleazy male behavior. As if the audience were their jury, three nameless leads each detail their life-changing heartbreak at the hands of cruel girlfriends (all played by Elizabeth Schmidt), from childhood (Peter Marsh) through high school (Tyler Hollinger) and ending with college (T.J. Mannix). Although blaming women for men’s downfall is nothing new, Tony Zertuche’s witty script and Marlo Hunter’s energetic direction make for a fresh take on the familiar theme. As each man tells his tale of woe, Hunter’s athletic blocking and Kathleen Dobbins’ lighting allow his buddies to pop in and out of the anecdote, providing commentary that is part Greek chorus, part sportscaster (a relationship-ending kiss on the cheek sparks a funny hiss from the sidelines). Hollinger and Mannix seem particularly comfortable in this style. With performances that are both heartfelt and humorous, they switch seamlessly from wounded puppies to men-on-the-prowl. It’s very easy to sympathize with these lovable losers – not to mention feel compelled to set them up, no matter how piggy they’ve become.
Off the Cuff is equally amusing, but lacks the tight organization of the first play. Two parents (Maria Gabriele, Richard Kent Green) and their children (Mia Aden, Brandon Walker) are all drunks with two strict rules: only one drunk in the house at a time and the drunk must wear handcuffs. Throw in exaggerated entrances, playful degradation, and a random, uninvited guest (Tyler Hollinger), and you have quite the warped sitcom. Although playwright William K. Powers and director Holli Harms stress this theme to hilarious effect, it would’ve been nice to see more of a parody with a point than this absurd replica. The repetitive dialogue is irritating and the musical chairs movement is too frantic. As the play loses its way, it starts to feels like it was written and directed on the tail end of a bender. Whether or not this was intentional is unclear.
On a surface level, however, the play is deliciously fun. As the dead-beat father and dim-witted son, Green and Walker spout ridiculous speeches with deadpan sincerity, and the combination of Walker’s looming frame and whiney voice never stops being funny. With some great lines (“Let me have a tall glass and fill it to the brim with whiskey. That way I can see if I like it”), Off the Cuff is the most amusing part of Committed. But the play pans out much like an intoxicating evening. You’ll have a great time, but won’t remember too many details once it’s over.
Perhaps if writer Robert Askins and director Lindsay Goss had shared some stiff drinks, they might’ve lightened up and the dialogue of Boxes wouldn’t seem so forced. With these overzealous efforts, many elements of the third play come across as manufactured – from the fading accents of the characters, to the strategically placed “poor people” holes in their clothes, to the clichéd script. On the day of his father’s wake, Aaron (Matthew Sincell) is tired of his dreary life and thinks his dad made a fortunate escape. Boxes are the reason for his father’s death and become a well-beaten metaphor as the play goes on. They are spilt cargo from wrecked ships that may either contain riches or explosives, providing a thin line between death and a better life. After Aaron’s sister Cassandra (Julie Fitzpatrick) finds him on the beach holding a box, an excessively weighty negotiation ensues. To be fair, Boxes might not feel so overdramatic if it didn’t come after two comedic stories. Though the piece is billed as “a dark comedy,” neither the script nor the performances conveyed this sentiment. As she tries to reason with her brother, Cassandra tells him: “This isn’t mourning, it’s theatrics.” Such a statement sums up Boxes quite accurately.
Although Committed veers in different directions in terms of themes and quality, the music and set consistently hit their mark. Geoffrey Roecker threads the series with a soundtrack, ranging from cheesy rock to depressing blues, that covers different sides of love. He perfectly captures Off the Cuff’s blend of camp and chaos with The Partridge Family’s “Come On, Get Happy” and The New Pornographers’ “Slow Descent into Alcoholism.” Scott Needham’s sets similarly fuel the series’ flow. In Men Are Pigs, he allows posters and bedspreads to convey the passage of time quickly and creatively. The adaptable set lets the actors switch from adolescence to adulthood without missing a beat. In Boxes, he creates a sweeping beach layered by crates (cleverly cut to seem sunken in the imaginary sand) and bordered by boulders.
A beautiful scene still doesn’t save Boxes from being the black sheep of the series. In a production about dysfunctional relationships, however, this feels oddly appropriate. After all, there’s one in every family.
Also featured in the ensemble are Dawn Evans and Leigh Danya.
Men Are Pigs
Acting: 2 1
Off the Cuff
Copyright 2007 Samantha O’Brien
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