Power Plays at Le Chat Noir is an evening of three one-act comedies directed by Keith Briggs. The first, The Way of All Flesh by Elaine May, is a real treat. Yvette Hargis plays Ms. Asquith, a well-heeled New Yorker whose life is taken up with the personal trainer, the crash diet, the right people and other essentials of the dolce vita, Big Apple style.
In a moment of flippant noblesse oblige, she invites her secretary to stay and socialize after work. "Perhaps for tonight, you should call me Margaret," she effuses, adding after a moment's reflection, "perhaps not."
Mary Lee Gibbons plays Miss Riverton, the secretary. She is an awkward, lonely-seeming creature with her pigtails and her total recall of the minutiae of her employer's life.
A strange tone of menace soon seeps into the queer little tete-a-tete, however, jolting Miss Asquith out of the mist of triviality she normally drifts through. For when poor, devoted Miss Riverton is finally egged on to speak about herself, she admits that she always wanted to be someone special -- by which she means "famous." But she realized she was lacking in any special abilities. The only way a dull person like herself could become famous was to kill someone famous, like Charley Manson did, or, conversely, to kill ordinary people in a particularly grisly manner, like Jack the Ripper did.
Miss Asquith eyes her suddenly ebullient guest with a disquieting realization of how little she actually knows her.
"You've given this a lot of thought," she says, nervously. And we are off on a hilarious cat-and-mouse game. Hargis and Gibbons round out their somewhat caricature roles with a fine, comic plausibility. Top-notch work.
The second play, Virtual Reality by Alan Arkin, is an oddity in which two workmen (Peter Gabb and Chad Carvelle) get totally carried away in what begins as an imaginary simulation of the task awaiting them. The play gets off to a slow start, but builds to a remarkable culmination. A well-performed absurdist curio.
The third play, In and Out of the Light by Elaine May, unites all the actors of the first two plays in a sort of burlesque skit. There is a respectable married dentist who wants to make time with his bimbo sex bomb of a dental hygienist, but he is interrupted by an emergency patient who is terrified to the point of panic by dentistry and by his son, who is unwillingly forced to acknowledge that he is gay. Some gold-old knockabout fun, with an emphasis on the "knockabout."
Speaking of good-old knockabout fun, Ricky Graham recently unleashed comic mayhem downstairs at Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl with Our Class Reunion ... And All. Graham is credited as writer/director, but actresses Amanda Hebert, Renee Maxwell and Becky Allen get a nod as "co-creators." This multiplicity of chefs has nonetheless cooked up a wild, crowd-pleasing broth. In fact, on the matinee I saw, everyone in the audience wanted to get into the act as well -- which is pretty much what the show is about.
The premise is a Catholic high school class reunion, hosted by those well-known, outrageous big-hair dames from the Mystic Krewe of Terpsichore, which include the co-creators aided and abetted by Rebecca Taliancich and Chelle Duke. An' trew it all, dawlin', lemme tell ya, ya know you ain't in New Inglin or no place like dat. René Piazza gets his share of laughs as a former high school cool cat. Stephen Rizzo does a turn as a woeful, straitlaced principal who can't open his mouth without letting slip an unintended (and unacknowledged) double entendre.
This show is fueled by audience participation, not the in-your-face 1960s style but more the kind of thing a cruise ship social director might dream up as a "let's get acquainted" icebreaker. There are hula hoop contests and palm readings and trivia quizzes, with silly little prizes for all the winners. A questionnaire on "what has changed most about me since high school" produced some dillies -- like the lady who wrote "pee now when I laugh."
Seating is at tables and there's an open bar right in the next room, so the "sing-along" mood comes easily. The ladies of the Krewe of Terpsichore are congenial hostesses, but as they were doing their rock-and-roll musical finale, I found myself wishing they'd spent a little more time in straight-out entertainment and little less goofing with the crowd. But I may very well have been the only returning alumnae in the room who thought so.
- The cast of The Way of All Flesh, part of Le Chat Noir's Power Plays, from top to bottom: Mary Lee Gibbons, Chad Carvelle, Peter Gabb and Yvette Hargis.