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Hang in There

The second act of Squeeze Plays redeems the evening

 Squeeze Plays, Fan Factory Theatre Company's assemblage of six short works by Houston authors, is an uneven collection, to say the least. The show's mini-plays range from the stinky (Slump's l-l-l-l-l-l-l-llLLLLed shheffffFFf!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to the sublime (Tony Esparza's Disgruntled Tooth Fairy). You might be tempted to leave at intermission, but hang in there, because the evening picks up in Act II, thanks to Esparza's three mini-plays. And three out of six is a respectable batting average for this sort of theatrical potpourri.

Act I features two very short works taken from Harrison Barth's 10 Plays About Forgiving People Under Strange Circumstances. In the first, The Devil Plays Mario Kart, slacker Skeet (Jonathan Harvey) has killed master Nintendo player Chester, because, he says, God told him to kill Satan. Chester's brother Jones (Eric Doss) is suspicious but not overly concerned about the death; more than anything, he's angry because Skeet blames God for it. But before we can begin to mull this over, Jones forgives Skeet -- hence Barth's main title -- and the play's over in an eye-blink. What this existential exercise means is anyone's guess. At least it's short, and Harvey and Doss do the best they can with cipher characters.

In Barth's other play, Bon-Bon, the forgiveness is more intriguing, if still offhandedly dramatized. Gil, a French aristocrat (Stephen Foulard), is strapped to the guillotine. In clown lipstick and appliquéd beauty mark the size of a quarter, Bon-Bon (Patricia Duran) berates "bourgeois pricks" and offers to spare Gil if he tells her the whereabouts of his fortune. Gil confronts her: "At least I made amends for my crimes; can you forgive those who stepped on you?" Then he whispers the information in her ear. Bon-Bon smiles at the news -- and then brings down the blade. It's pretty hard to care, though, because Gil and Bon-Bon are ideas, not characters. And, of course, it's characters that bring drama to life.

Flash (William Giffen) always wears his mask, even during sex.
Suzanne King
Flash (William Giffen) always wears his mask, even during sex.

Written by Houston's own X-rated performance-art troupe, Slump, l-l-l-l-l-l-l-llLLLLed shheffffFFf!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! is one lame parody, in the form of a fictional Houston TV cooking show. The sophomoric improv romp starts out by asking what makes Houston so special. The answer: "Houston is really fucking fat." Since we're all "cow-eating cow pigs," Houston gets what it deserves: a combo platter of S&M sex and witless, fourth-grade bathroom humor, with appearances by Hannibal Lecter and Julia Child. The play self-destructs swiftly. The performers haven't a clue how to perform this unsexy satire, other than to shout and act silly.

Then, thankfully, Act II. Tony Esparza's bright little trifle, Killing Me Softly, explores how even hit men have everyday problems. Killer 1 (William Giffen) is tired of "paying good money for shitty cable service." He decides now's a good time to call and complain, since his partner in crime, Killer 2 (Esparza, as fine an actor as playwright), is busy disposing of the body of a woman. This deadly duo is thoroughly Abbott and Costello -- certainly, paper jumpsuits don't give the pair gravitas. They've forgotten the hacksaw and shovel; they're hungry; they argue about whether Sex and the City is a chick show. Esparza and Giffen play off each other like fine chamber musicians.

In Esparza's Morning with the Flash, Super Hero Flash (William Giffen) and his girlfriend (Leigh Anne Mitsakis) bicker post-sex. She asks him to slow down. "You fuck like a hummingbird," she protests, rustling through O magazine. "But I'm the Flash," he replies sincerely. "I'm in and out. People like my efficiency." Flash wears his mask even during sex. It gives him that "air of mystery." This joke may be one-note, but nevertheless, it's clever and lovingly performed. Esparza takes the legend and spins it off kilter. When Flash plants his legs, puts his fists on his hips and firmly announces his greater calling for all mankind, Giffen practically sparkles with fairy dust. And Mitsakis effortlessly wrings attitude and dry humor out of the script.

There's plenty more humor in Esparza's Disgruntled Tooth Fairy. As the work makes clear, you can tell a lot about a person by his clothes. The schlumpy Tooth Fairy (Esparza) wears sneakers, mismatched anklets, safari shorts, an abbreviated tutu and a pink T-shirt that reads, "Santa is My Bitch." He also sports a pair of cheap toy-store angel wings attached by worn elastic bands. "Disgruntled" is an understatement -- nursing a hangover, this fairy is pissed. He had to break a window to get into the "little bastard's" bedroom; rival Santa gets all the sex and the press; and then the kid's mom (Alycia Harvey) interrupts and mistakes him first for Peter Pan and then for Tinkerbell, which really sets him off. This is a charmer of a playlet, skewed and thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks to Esparza's contributions, Squeeze Plays is definitely worth the trip.

 
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