2nd Story Theatre will give us a season of five full-length plays beginning next month, bidding farewell to its lighter fare. The slate will include some theatrical heavy lifting: dramas by Albee, Steinbeck, and Tennessee Williams.
But the last of the summer season’s Short Attention Span Theatre anthologies, Wave 5, is on the boards right now, and this time every choice is all about laughs — bemused smirks, at the very least. Artistic director Ed Shea’s message seems to be: smile while the smilin’s good, folks, we’re about to get serious. (To ease the transition, to start things off he’s slated Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance — a black comedy, but comedy nevertheless.)
Another thing about this group of short plays is that all but the opener, a kind of shaggy dog story by cartoonist Shel Silverstein, resist description. They rely not on plot but execution and unfolding development. It’s like watching origami being made by nimble fingers — if it actually looks like a hippopotamus, that’s a bonus.
Silverstein’s No Dogs Allowed is not unlike a stiff exchange you might hear in a French restaurant between a waiter and a customer trying to cadge a free meal with the ol’ plastic cockroach trick. In this case, a woman (Susan Bergeron) is getting all adamant with a resort official (Timothy Johnson). That lump covered with all those towels is her badly sunburned husband, who is not going to sue, she graciously volunteers. No, she is told, it’s just your dog. What follows is a send-up of bite-your-lip-rather-than-lunge-for-the-throat social discourse, as well as the approach-avoidance conflict many establishments have with their clientele.
Pat Hegnauer, co-founder with Shea of 2nd Story, directs the two pieces that he doesn’t. Both playlets are tough guy spoofs. Set by its tone in the film noir era, The Dicks, by Jules Feiler, has a veteran hotel house detective (Anthony Pesare) breaking in a new guy (Joe Ouellette) on his first day on the job. The kid has lots to learn, starting with not being so shocked that his new mentor has made a hobby out of filming videos through peepholes — although it may no longer qualify as amateur cinematography, since he is talking about selling his latest one to the lonely Chinese laundry man.
To update the genre and testosterone level, Hegnauer also directs Frederick Stroppel’s knee-pounding funny The Mamet Women. Maija Groden and Linda Kamajian are probably enjoying this as much as we are, since the premise is such wicked fun. Two women sit across from each other at a desk, each with a foot proprietarily on top like two arms set to wrestle. We get stylized tough guy cadences, blue language, purple prose, and a macho businessmen confrontation a la Glengarry Glen Ross. Groden gives her breasts a heft lift that will make the next crotch-tugging macho gesture you see look limp-wristed. The business deal being negotiated? A Tupperware party and the resulting need for a babysitter. Mamet may regularly, and unthinkingly, be accused of being a misogynist, but I’m so glad — otherwise Stroppel wouldn’t have come up with this deliciously unfair spoof.
David Ives’s The Green Hill is an odd writerly self-indulgence that, thanks to Wayne Kneeland’s amiable Everyman portrait, oddly enough works. He plays Jake, who describes the lush and peaceful green hill that he can visualize when he closes his eyes. He knows nothing about it, but he senses that the place really exists somewhere. When he sees it on a travel poster, he’s off to track down the photographer. The man specialized in taking pictures of green hills but didn’t match the images with their locations, so Jake has quite a time-consuming — as in life-consuming — quest before him.
Ives is a deft and whimsical portrayer of our contemporary collective psyche, whose work has been used by SAST more than any other playwright. In fact, his Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread has been done twice before by 2nd Story. This time, instead of taking place in a bakery, four formally attired performers stand before music stands like musicians at the avant-garde composer’s concerts. Like the recycled measures of his trademark style, words and brief passages — "Isn’t that Philip Glass?," "I think it is,’ "I’d like a loaf of bread" — pile up like verbal flotsam in Einstein On the Beach. Ives made no stage directions, only tempo designations, but director Shea has gotten extra laughs out by breaking the text into movements — one consists of a single word. It all must be excruciatingly difficult to perform, what with the lack of cues. But Genevieve Boisseau, Marina Mihalakis, Jim Sullivan, and Timothy White are superb.
As is, as we have come to know, most 2nd Story Theatre productions.
Issue Date: August 29 - September 4, 2003
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