Two Out of Three
One-act plays are hard to produce. Often running no more than 45 minutes, a lone one doesn't fill up an evening of theater, and it's difficult to find two or more that somehow fit together. So when Main Street Theater set out to produce its current "Festival of One-Act Plays," it was giving itself a tough assignment.
The evening consists of three plays, Enough Is Enough, Trifles and The Virtuous Burglar. They are, respectively, a satire, a serious drama and an Italian farce; and they share nothing in terms of device, strategy or theme. In short, nothing frames these disparate one-acts as a single, satisfying entity. Each stands, or falls, alone.
Enough Is Enough, by African playwright Protais Asseng, is by far the weakest of the three. Written in 1978, the play is nothing more than a polemic extolling the virtues of family planning. This lesson, already so internalized by middle-class America, seems so obvious that I kept thinking surely the play must be about something else, something more. But no: This is a very simple tale with a very simple lesson.
The story concerns Bakony (Vincent Kyle Victoria), a father of 12 children who wants just one more. (The state is giving out medals to any father manly enough to produce a 13th.) Bakony's only problem is his wife, Bissabey (Michelle Milton), who thinks 12 kids is quite enough, thank you very much. In an effort to teach her husband a thing or two about family planning, she and her gynecologist (Andrew Dawson) concoct a strange plan in which Bakony is the one who gets pregnant and has to deal with becoming a "mother." In the end, he gets the obvious point: Enough is enough.
To make matters worse, director Stephen Jackson's production is also quite weak. Amateurish acting, high-schoolish sets and costumes that look as if they were rummaged from a Goodwill bag do nothing to improve on the weak script.
On the other hand, Trifles, by Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Glaspell, is a lovely, quiet mystery made even better by Jackson's production. The play takes place during days long gone, when women's stockings had seams and men wore hats. These were also the days when ladies' interests were considered mere trifles. However, as the sheriff and county attorney of a rural community search for clues in the home of accused murderer Minnie Wright, the audience discovers how powerful those "trifles" can be. Mrs. Wright's unloving husband has been killed in a most peculiar way, and the men are there to figure out how and why she did it. They've brought along their womenfolk to pack clothes for the jailbird. And though it is clear from the men's condescending tones that they don't think their women are capable of doing much more than simple delivery work, it is the women who figure out who killed whom and why. What they do with that information is as interesting as how they discover it.
Much of what makes this production so strong is the tender though powerful delivery of Zona Jane Meyer, who plays Mrs. Hale, the intelligent country wife who knows too well the tyranny of men. Ms. Meyer, with her upright school-marm carriage and clear but softly Southern voice, creates a truthful, simple and moving character who deepens this little play. The other actors also do well. Jean Ann Hutsell is strong as the young wife of the sheriff who feels torn between her husband and the accused woman. John Kaiser, as the misogynist county attorney, is suitably smarmy when he leers at the sheriff's wife and proclaims she is "married" to the law. The dark lighting and the country kitchen set work quite well at establishing the lost and lonely feel of the place. Indeed, this one-act alone is worth the price of the ticket.
The Virtuous Burglar, an Italian farce by Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Dario Fo, is the third and final offering of this festival. The only real comedy of the evening, this production, with Steve Garfinkel's competent direction, is very funny and full of surprising moments.
The good-natured though unlucky burglar, played with terrific energy and comic timing by Mark Roberts, may be a dastardly robber, but at least he knows how to stay loyal to his wife, unlike the other characters who so rudely interrupt him during his burgling. Just as he's bagged the silver spoons and the glittering jewels (found in the living-room drawers, of all places) the homeowner arrives home, mistress in tow. The burglar, in true farce form, hides in the grandfather clock. But just as the husband is about to score his own sort of booty, the burglar gets bonked on the head by the clock's pendulum once too often, and bursts into the living room. The lovers take him for a P.I. hired to discover their clandestine affair. And so the night goes on, a series of mistaken identities, hiding places and compromised ethics. The familiar material is handled well; especially strong performances come from Jef Johnson as the unabashed, philandering husband and Martha Mazeika as his paramour. And Friday night's audience giggled throughout the fast-paced, good-humored production. The evening ended well.
One unusual piece of advice: If you're going to the festival, linger over coffee, dessert, a second glass of wine. Be late for the theater, just this once. Things get much better after the first act.
"A Festival of One-Act Plays" plays through April 5 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times, 524-6706.
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