Triumph of imagination?

Comedy Tonight!

Adventures in Passive-Aggression
By Debra Sallaway
Directed by Bronwyn Eisenberg
Bar Stories
By Jackie Kleefield
Directed by Amy Cook
Pulse Ensemble Theatre
432 W. 42nd St. (501-4321)
Equity showcase (closes September 20th)
Review by James A. Lopata

A couple of one-acts by Comedy Tonight! at the Pulse show the dangers and triumph of imagination.

In Adventures in Passive-Aggression, Debra Sallaway creates a few memorable characters who can charmingly repulse. A woman romanticizes Liz Taylor's insane-asylum experience from Suddenly Last Summer. She complains that she does not want to take pills to get better. She wants her imaginary world: "No one has the proper respect for sickness!" A would-be waitress embellishes the dinner specials by describing the rack-of-lamb as a sacrificial offering. A Calculus 101 instructor convinces--through the use of imaginary numbers and geometry--that "the imaginary world promises more than the real world, but it never delivers." Sallaway's imagination delivers plenty.

Both Claudia Traub's slightly offbeat performance and Jackie Kleefield's performance-with-an-edge suited the material. Scenic designer Kevin Cwalina placed them in an elegantly twisted construction of angled pieces that complemented the action.

It's disco night in Jackie Kleefield's (yes, she's a playwright as well) Bar Stories. A married couple attempts revival of a sagging relationship by role-playing a hot pick-up scene. Two '70s has-beens find it difficult to conceal their dislike for their ex-friend John Travolta. Later, everyone's hair is a little slicker and there are a few more gold chains hanging over the men's hairy chests. In and out of this hustle flits a mysterious wild man who intermittently speaks French poorly (but with conviction), flings magic dust, lip-synchs to Edith Piaf and acts like a general lunatic. What is going on here? Bar Stories, as its general title testifies, has difficulty finding its focus.

The most compelling story involves a plain young woman, Wanda (Kelly Bertrand), who is anything but passive in her aggressive disapproval of the bartender Pete (Lair Torrant)'s advances. She hides by writing about her fictional lover in her journal. In the most poignant scene of the evening, the other, more comic couples have discoed off the stage. The mirror ball spins in almost timeless suspension, as Pete describes to Wanda his vision of her lying naked on his bed, both of them silently understanding each other without a word. Torrant's silky voice and sincerity whisked the audience all too briefly into a tranquil, true moment.

With the exception of Bertrand and Torrant, Amy Cook directed the actors with a comic, almost two-dimensional style--a shy accountant suddenly threw off his tie to start boogieing. This cartoonish approach highlighted the goofy Will Parker as the mysterious Mabry and the high-pitched Annika Ahlstrom as disco-queen Stella. The other actors (David Gordon, Janine Poreba, Mark McClain Wilson and David Fuhrer) put in admirable performances.

Lighting by Nelson R. Downend Jr. gave the show an edginess appropriate for a nightclub.

Box Score:

Adventures in Passive-Aggression

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

Bar Stories

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

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Copyright 1998 James A. Lopata