Scriptwriters/Houston's 10 X 10, celebrating its 15th year, has two rules. The ten writers must be from Houston, and no play can exceed ten minutes. This year's festival, which presents 11 (?) plays, is a pleasant smorgasbord. Even if it doesn't break any new ground, there are no outright stinkers either. These are all "well-made," conventional plays -- there's an old-fashioned '50s quality to them that is audience-friendly and accessible, in a good way. Dysfunctional relationships, comic or sad, are the focus, and even Ed Vela's Monty Python-esque Desperate Houseflies has a beginning, a middle and an end -- in that order.
In Terri Welch's Revenge of a Broad, a naive new trophy wife (Julie Fontenot) gets filled in on her husband's wayward ways by his former wife, the bitchy Madelyn, who's played by Leigh Ann Mitsakis in a gleefully acidic performance. Mitsakis is so good tossing off barbs and "promising to be nice" in a voice that would curdle yogurt, we want her to have her own play. When another ex-wife is introduced at lunch, Madelyn's final line, which ends the show, is the perfect capper.
Vela's Desperate Houseflies delivers exactly what you'd expect from the title: houseflies behaving badly. Their randy behavior is pitted against an utterly shocking exchange between two kids playing their Game Boys and unflinchingly discussing their parents' detox, cosmetic surgery and other suburban ills. Madge the fly (Jared Doreck in housewife drag) swoops in like a harridan out of Ab/Fab, but unfortunately kills herself right at the start of the satire and is rendered in disembodied voice-over during the rest of the play. We miss her badly, but the breezy appearance of Juana the Spanish Fly (Ananka Kohnitz) and the dry, no-nonsense Ethel (Carolyn Montgomery) somewhat make up for the loss. It's ridiculousness with a purpose.
10 X 10 Stream of Consciousness: The Verge of Insanity
10 X 10: Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.
Stream of Consciousness: The Verge of Insanity: The Savoy Room at the Houston School, 5250 Gulfton, suite 4A, 832-283-0858.
10 X 10: Through August 20.
Stream of Consciousness: The Verge of Insanity: Through August 27.
Al Pacholder and Carl Williams's High Expectations is the most consistent of the lot and the most craftily acted. Business tycoon Louis (Scott Holmes) has a hot date with Pamela (Morgan McCarthy), who's posed on her divan in a Marilyn Monroe red skirt, showing leg. She has plans for him. As Louis tells her the story of his life, she picks her teeth or stares vacuously into space, bored to tears. But when it's her turn to beguile him with her vision of their future together in River Oaks, she comically goes off the deep end, revealing much more than she means to. This wonderful little riff is a perfect closer to the evening.
In their quest to bring kink to the middle class, dos chicas theater commune presents Stream of Consciousness: The Verge of Insanity by resident playwright Bob Morgan, "in consortium" with Paul Locklear, Rick Smith, Elizabeth Seabolt and Sophia Ansari.
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The show opens on the Snappy Pants Players, a new theatrical troupe, under the artistic direction of the legendary Captain Snappy Pants (Jon Harvey), a theater queen you don't ever want to meet in a dark room. He does have snappy pants, though -- flowing white silk pj's -- and the curliest wig this side of a Roman bust. He sets the tone by reading from the classic acting handbook Respect for Acting while reminiscing over his dead goldfish. But his troupe shouts insults offstage, until the plays begin.
They may call themselves Snappy Pants Players, but we're definitely in dos chicas-land: that unique realm of sleazy porn, family dysfunction, scatological humor and reefer madness. As expected, the playlets vary in quality. Among the most entertaining are Morgan's Guidance Counselor, a wanton comedy about teen pregnancy, lewd motherhood and unsolicited abortion, and Ansari's What Would Oprah Do, about a text- messager (Julie Boneau) who's out to save the world but hangs up on her best friend when he's about to commit suicide. Then there's the really distasteful: Rick Smith's Making of a Cult Icon, with its necrophilia/ asphyxiation porn movie subject.
Each little play makes a statement (however low-down), but everything's held together by Harvey as Snappy Pants, who comments sarcastically or in off-the-wall non sequiturs about what we've seen or are about to see. He's the glue that holds Stream on tack. Or, in the words of Paul Locklear's Wanker Engine, about two scientists who invent a car engine that runs on sperm, he's "the spooge."
Also lending a willing and talented hand acting in the sex-filled festivities are Anne Zimmerman, Tony Esparza, Cecil Trent and the aforementioned Morgan. Whatever you do, don't take your grandmother.