Diverse interludes

Opening Acts -- Series C

Workshop Theater Co.
Workshop Theater -- Main Stage
312 West 36th Street, 4th fl. (695-4173)
Equity showcase (closed; series D continues through Sept. 28)
Review by Elias Stimac

There's a whole lot of one-acts goin' on at the newly relocated Workshop Theater Company -- four series of five plays each. This is good, because everyone loves diversity. And it's clear that this Midtown group is willing to offer challenging stage fare.

Challenging is the key word when it comes to the works presented in Series C of the company's fourth One-Act Play Festival, dubbed "Opening Acts." The five plays on the bill each deal with diverse and difficult subjects, ranging from being framed for murder to dating outside of one's faith to facing one's mortality -- and those are the comedies! All of the shows featured quality writing, acting, and directing, but some were more successful than others at grabbing and sustaining the viewer's interest.

First out of the gate was The Big Nil (written and directed by Timothy Scott Harris), and it got the program started with a bang -- literally. Within minutes of Mark (Marc Geller)'s bringing back his flirty but quirky lady friend (Dee Dee Friedman), he shoots her. It seems to be an accident, although the avant-garde artist takes great pains to snap a photo of nebbish neighbor Jerry (playwright Harris) handling the murder weapon. Harris has written and staged the dark comedy with the emphasis on dark, and if unsettling the onlookers is his desired effect, then he succeeded immeasurably.

P. Seth Bauer's Bumpershoot (directed by Elysa Marden) centers on an exchange between a buttoned-up businessman and a soccer mom who's all business. When the friendly Janice (Michele Ammon) gets a little too friendly and propositions Trevor (Mark Hofmaier), this chance meeting appears to have been planned. Bauer's script is delightful and articulate, as were the two cast members, Ammon and Hofmaier. Elysa Marden kept the staging simple, focusing more on nuance than navigation.

Shiksa Syndrome, by Laurie Graff, was a solo spot, allowing the writer/performer to reflect on being a Jewish single who must pose as a non-Jewish "shiksa" to attract a Jewish beau. The actress delivered the monolog in a conversational tone that sounded friendly but rarely varied in speed or tone, under the serviceable but uninspired direction of Manfred Bormann.

After intermission, it was time for some Serious Poker, written and directed by Frank Hertle. The game in question has a few wild cards up its sleeves, like the fact that losers die. This poker club doesn't allow members to go home empty-handed, or even go home. As directed by the playwright, the suspense never quite built as the drama unfolded toward its inevitable ending, but on the whole the piece flows smoothly. Albert Michael Goudy, Jeff Taylor, and Eric Walton made solid character impressions as the high-stakes players.

Tony Sportiello's Tickets, Please! wrapped up the evening in sentimental style. A mix of A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life, the short work focuses on Barbara (Susanna Fraser), an overworked woman who has no life outside of the office. On the train ride home, she is confronted by Terry (Mark Hofmaier), who tells her she has died and offers her an opportunity to make up for her selfish former life. Manfred Bormann helped his actors develop a nice chemistry, although Fraser let her acting show at times. The satisfying story has an anti-climactic twist, but all in all it got its point across.

No technical credits were listed, but the all-purpose wooden units that comprised the set were cleverly designed.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac