It does a good playwright no good to make a hopelessly overreaching comparison of his or her work to that of an all-time great dramatist. But, watching the seven short plays that afforded a sampling of Bill McMahon's writing, a certain likening seems inevitable. One of the salient stylistic characteristics of Noel Coward's scripts was his brilliant ability to cull a stop-dead-in-your-tracks emotional epiphany out of the most brittle comedic banter. At his best, McMahon achieves that same quietly stunning effect.
``White Space'' and ``Chocolate Morning'' are connected and seemingly part of a larger work. The former play skewers the advertising industry and the two-faced control freaks in it. A young graphic artist is ping-ponged back and forth between his manic, fatuous boss and the boss's dominatrix secretary in wickedly funny fashion. McMahon scores especially well in this one by having one leg in an absurdist theatrical lexicon and the other in a solid sense of actual corp-speak cliches. As the boss, Christopher Brennan morphed from honey-tongued condescension to fascistic menace with the ease of someone hitting a remote button. Ann Coatney seethed with style as the sado-secretary. And Kevin Sussman was enjoyably befuddled as the put-upon artist.
``Chocolate Morning'' follows Coatney's character as she assumes an executive secretary position and meets the organizationally challenged waif she's replacing. Karen Leeds was a hilarious standout in her pathetic truffle-guzzling binge, her wretched self-pity masking a startlingly acute survival instinct. As in the other playlets throughout the evening, McMahon here fills a void in New York theatre inasmuch as he can write emotionally ambiguous, thematically complex roles for women.
``Burning Snow'' chronicles an attempted pick-up of a department-store perfume salesman by a wealthy older woman. He's less than interested in the offer, and the stymied seduction soon segues into a bonding session between two lonely people. There's plenty of good, funny writing here, but the sudden floods of emotion that erupted at a number of points seemed the only unconvincing part of the evening. Rayna Baker adroitly found the pathos in her character's sexual predation and David Rittenberg was quick and resourceful in his reading of the young man
``Clownfish'' deals with the resentment that seems an inextricable element of intimacy. A young soon-to-be-wed couple is cleaning their apartment prior to the wedding. As the play progresses, they unearth lost objects and unspoken feelings of bitterness within themselves. Krista Kreyling and Andrew Marks established a nicely felt tension that was as unforced as it was uncomfortable to watch.
``Plastic'' is an enigmatic monologue. A beautifully sculpted (in a more literal sense of that word than is usually meant) young woman offers an exegesis on the malleability of the human form. Recounting the numerous cosmetic restructurings of her face and body, she revels in the glory of physical perfectibility. In point of fact, Barbie was her role model and the term ``plastic'' she considers to be a progressive concept. It is less than clear whether McMahon is ridiculing a shallow personality or asking for empathy for an off-beat outlook. Either could be read into the graceful, forceful articulation of the character's worldview by La Nette Ware, a charismatic, galvanizing stage presence.
Directors Doug De Vita, Ovi Vargas, Craig Rhyne, and Kevin Brofsky coordinated nicely the pace of the evening and each had the right feel for their respective materials.
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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