Each year, Le Chat Noir hosts a one-act play competition. R. J. Tsarov and Laura Watson, two of this year's chosen writers, shared the bill recently during an evening of their winning plays.
Tsarov, of course, is well known to local theatergoers. He has poured out a steady stream of compelling, sometimes provocative dramas that he characterizes as "nonlinear." They have been consistently inventive and often laced with a wicked sense of humor.
Move, the new Tsarov one-act, begins as an enigma and ends as a conundrum -- or, perhaps, vice-versa. The situation seems simple enough. A man and a woman named Jack and Tee are sightseeing in Jackson Square. Specifically, they are watching a mime or, more accurately, a living statue. The mime has painted himself and his nondescript clothing silver.
Now (assuming we are meant to take any fact hinted at in this nonlinear world as fact), Jack and Tee are married. We gather what's going on in (and going wrong with) their marriage through shrewdly disjointed dialogue. Each of the protagonists interrupts the other in mid-sentence. It's as though they know the psychic territory of their conflicts so well that they only have to hear a word or two from their partner in order to fire off a riposte.
Meanwhile, the mime is getting an earful of this dysfunctional union. Playwright Tsarov has had ironic fun with the oddly absent quality of this static, silent "performer."
Del, Jack's brother, is a third character in the play, but he remains an off-stage presence. Apparently, there's some sort of hanky-panky going on between Tee and brother Del. Jack says he eavesdropped on a phone conversation in which Tee complained to Del of her dead-end relationship with Jack. Jack is seriously pissed off about the cozy betrayal of trust he overheard.
How does the mime fit into this marital conflict? To me, this wasn't clear. Mind you, Jack does say that the mime is just like his brother in that they are both rigid. Maybe the mime actually is the brother. After all, in the end, a truly weird metamorphosis occurs. Jack takes the place of the mime and becomes a living statue, while the mime walks off with Tee, who now addresses him as "Jack."
Under Mikko's direction, David Dahlgren and Kate Labouisse were captivating as the unhappy couple. They kept a solid base of emotional truth going, while smoothly dealing with the complicated ping-pong of overlapping lines. Richard Alexander Pomes was effective as the modern male Galatea, the statue who comes to life.
Waiting for the Muffler by Laura L. Watson, the second one-act on the program, made a good companion piece to Move because it also turned, somewhat enigmatically, on the eternal boy-meets-girl dilemma.
Waiting follows two characters, The Man and The Woman, who meet in an auto repair shop. The Man and The Woman start chatting. Unspoken questions begin to loom over their banter: Will this chance meeting have an afterlife? Are we witnessing the birth of a romance?
The flirtation -- if that's what it is -- begins on a wry note. The woman tries a scratch-and-sniff perfume ad in a magazine, then dares the man to tell her that the perfume doesn't smell like monkey butt! The Man gamely responds: "I'm probably not the best one to ask. I mean, as far as I know, I've never smelled a monkey's butt."
That bit of drollery starts them off on a free-ranging discussion of their lives. It turns out they both are divorced, both have kids and both have standard poodles. This last similarity is surprisingly discovered when The Woman stuns The Man by asking if he has a puppy. How did she guess? Elementary, my dear Watson: The Man's shoes are chewed.
What resonates most with this potential new couple, however, are the topics of divorce and single parenthood. In fact, those shared ordeals suggest a shared future. Until, that is, The Man suddenly realizes that he and The Woman have already met. In fact, The Man used to work for The Woman's ex.
While Waiting for the Muffler does not have quite the ambiguity of Move, it also ends up more under a question mark than an exclamation point.
Under Dane Rhodes' direction, Jerry Lee Leighton and Vicki Lovelace brought The Man and The Woman to easy and assured life. Watson's script was graceful and intelligent, but I longed to know more of what was at stake for the characters.
The other winners in Le Chat Noir's one-act competition this year were Barry Ivker with There Was An Old Man From Nantucket and Carlos Carrasco with The Waiting Room.
- David Dahlgren and Kate Labouisse were captivating as the unhappy couple in R.J. Tsarovs one-act play, Move, staged recently at Le Chat Noir as part of its one-act competition.