Turn-away crowds added to the excitement of the recent One-Act Play Weekend at Le Chat Noir. The winning submissions were assigned to first-rate directors and presented in repertoire on two weekends (though some of the shows were, in fact, staged readings).
In The Bar Mitzvah, by Bernard C. Burke, young Samuel Goldberger (Mage Macchione) throws his family into a tizzy by announcing he wants to try out for the high school football team. His mother (Maggie Eldred) is determined to prevent this and badgers her husband (a superbly wry Doug Mundy) into calling a family meeting. Even the Rabbi (Randy Cheramie) is dragooned into pressuring the boy. Meanwhile, Samuel's sister (Brianne Bardo) is jealous of the attention he's getting.
This sounds a bit cloying, but it was saved by some nice touches in the writing and first-class performances by a solid cast, under the direction of Perry Martin. For instance, the father, though soft spoken, is not a hen-pecked nebbish. When "daddy's little girl" asks with a coquettish pout why her brother gets a new suit but she can't have the sweater she covets, daddy responds, "Because we love him more than we love you."
This miniaturized sitcom was coupled with The Stud Mule by Kevin Allman (remembered for his stunning monologue "Boo and the Shreveport Baby" in Native Tongues 3). The Stud Mule, directed by Carl Walker, is an outrageous comedy. Catherine (Ann Casey) is the richest woman in the contiguous United States. She has enough dough, she says, to wipe out hunger around the globe. Instead, she has narrowed her sights to a more personal obsession. At 44 years of age -- "with one single egg, the only thing between me and menopause," as she puts it -- she has decided to rent a stud to impregnate her. Rod (Christopher Lee) is the eighth candidate of the day and, with a mere 7 percent of body fat, the most promising by far. Catherine, who has just begun to ovulate this morning and fears it's her last cycle, is on a quest for "a perfectly normal male" to sire her child, because she wants her progeny to be spared the curse of intelligence. The repartee between this odd couple has some wonderful flashes of wit, like the following:
Rod: "I'm just an out-of-work actor."
Catherine: "Don't be redundant."
In the end, one suspects it is carnal knowledge more than procreation that the supercilious and virginal heiress is really seeking. In any case, this naughty gambol was fun -- though it might have been more fun if the actors had been "off book."
The Bonding Room by James A. Perry was the only serious play in the lineup. Mathew (Scott Jefferson) arrives in the waiting room of an intensive-care unit, waiting for news of his daughter, who is in her ninth day of a coma following a car wreck. He is approached by Theodore (John Joly), who has come to know firsthand the hopes and despairs of having a critically injured child. While Mathew struggles to come to terms with this "mistake of God's," Theodore gives him advice grounded in the "cold brutal facts" of experience.
In an O. Henry-esque twist at the end of the play, we learn the deep melancholy roots of Theodore's compassion. Director John Grimsley elicited moving performances from his cast (including Christopher Lee in a minor role). Scott Jefferson's taut, tormented Mathew was particularly arresting.
In Pat Bourgeois' Cosmic Debt, we return to a comic realm of sex and fantasy. Nicki (Bob Edes, splendidly tucked into a black dress, with wig and purse to match) is a spirit guide sent from the beyond by God (the voice of Ann Casey) to help Beth (Ashley Nolan) along the path of perfection -- which, inexplicably, involves a blind date with Lenny (Michael Sullivan), the sleazy proprietor of a second-rate casino in Las Vegas. They meet at a bar, where the waitress (Dawn Fabreau) turns out to be more in tune with video poker and men who wear gold chain jewelry -- leaving Beth free to meet the yummy Bradley (Christian Middleton), upon whom she had previously cast a longing glance.
Mikko directed this off-the-wall confection and there were many bright spots, as when the invisible drag-queen spirit guide snapped at the waitress, who had sat down on what she took to be an empty chair: "Get your thonged buttocks off me!"
A slate of locally written one-acts is a great idea. This was a laudable start. Its strong suit was an improvisatory excitement and freshness. But a bit more preparation and some honing of the scripts during rehearsal would certainly help. Here's hoping Le Chat's play contest becomes a yearly tradition.
- Director mikko and playwright Pat Bourgeois mixed sex and fantasy with Bourgeois' one-act, Cosmic Debt, recently at the One-Act Play Weekend at Le Chat Noir.