LIFE SUPPORT by Sean Deming, directed by Christopher Gladysz
TIKKUN OLAM: Repairing the World by Paula Caplan, directed by Dolly Williams
TRUSTING MR. UNIVERSE by Peter Valentyne, directed by James A. Lopata
The Sage Theater
Equity Approved (closed)
Review by David Mackler

There didn't seem to be a thematic point made by grouping these three one-acts together, but showcasing playwrights and performers is a good enough reason. You pays your money, you takes your choice. LIFE SUPPORT is a one-joke shaggy-dog kind of play. It's an amusing farce set in an intensive care unit, as the members of an accident victim's family act out their own agendas and argue about maintaining life support systems. Underlying tensions are revealed, and secrets come out which everyone knows anyway. The Patient (Jerry Prince Solomon) is up and about during all this, commenting and providing exposition as the family dithers. He is also rather simpleminded, the reason for which is explained in the play's punchline. C. Arthur Smith was fine as the patient's buffoonishly lockjawed father, and Judith J.K. Polson, Tara Ford, and Andrew Thaman contributed funny bits. Playwright Sean Deming and director Christopher Gladysz conspired to keep the final joke a silly surprise.

In Tikkun Olum: Repairing the World, Mag (Vera E. Chazen), Julia (Karen Asconi) and Rosie (Vonder Gray) are at a reunion where Mag is to give a speech. Were people really how they seemed back when they were in school? How differently things turned out from what they planned! (You know, typical reunion stuff.) The deus ex machina that playwright Paula Caplan employs is that Mag is to give a speech and accept an award for her accomplishments, but is at a loss about what to say. This gives our trio the excuse to talk about what they call "heart pounding moments" -- they remember their high school and college days, share memories, and compare their lives. The result is a nicely acted but rather aimless drama. The ground that's covered is very familiar, but Chazen, Asconi, and especially Gray were so appealing that they gave greater resonance to the play than it otherwise would have had. When the characters forgive their younger selves and each other, they strike the right notes. Mag gives her speech, talking about the concept of tikkun olam (which means repairing the world). There are no big surprises here, but it was nice to spend time with these women. William Greville appeared as the various men in their stories, but this play is about girl power.

Last on the bill was Trusting Mr. Universe. Frieda (Lucy McMichael), a highly religious eighty-eight year old woman hires Vincent (Peter Carlino), a body builder of questionable background, as her errand boy, companion, and maid. This odd-couple beginning has possibilities, but playwright Peter Valentyne seems to have other things on his mind. What that is though, is not entirely clear. The dialogue seems primed for insight, but it is mostly strained and obvious. There's little basis for a developing friendship between the two characters, and their quarrels make no points nor provide any insight. (This is no "Tending Miss Daisy" or "Visiting Ms. Green.") Frieda says that she sees Vincent as her salvation, that she will look after him while he takes care of her. But since the characters have no depth, so there can be no development; and when the play changes gear halfway through into Kind Lady territory (in a twist so obvious, it is, paradoxically, impossible to see it coming) all bets are off.

McMichael was not believable as an 88 year old woman, but she had a twinkle in her eye that saw her through the play's weird, unbelievable tangents. Carlino also tried hard, but he could not budge the play. Director James A. Lopata bravely decided to stage it straightforwardly, but all three are defeated -- the most effective sequence involved cutting up onions. There was a funny line or two, but overall Trusting Mr. Universe was programmatic, diagrammatic, and dull.

Life Support and Tikkun Olum were played on a mostly bare stage. Trusting Mr. Universe had the furnishings of an old woman's apartment. The plays effectiveness was in inverse proportion to their sets.

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