Motel Tropicana Brings Plenty of Comedy, Drama

The setup:

Big Head Productions solicited short plays set in a seedy motel room, and presents the eight selections in an evening filled with considerable variety, a range of talent, and some powerful comedic and dramatic moments.

The execution:

The set has the requisite bed, a small table and chairs, an appropriate entrance, and an exit to the unseen offstage bathroom, serving well all eight plays. The opening play, Two Night Stand by Ron Burch, contains both humor and the nuanced subtleties of a not-yet-formed relationship, as first a young woman (Randi Hall), then the man (Joshua Costea) awaken after a night of coupling. She seeks to flee, and he seeks to persuade her to remain a bit longer, and clear characterizations emerge in their believable dialogue. The acting is excellent, and the direction by Ricky Welch strikes just the right note of urgency, need and anxiety.

Welch also directed Winner by Tom Stell, Executive Director of Obsidian Art Space, this time with an electric pace. Here a coach (playwright Stell) is found tied to a chair, and is menaced by a former athlete (Corey Kendrick), now high on crystal meth. The opening is violent and escalates upward from there. Stell is authentic and convincing as the stoic coach, and Kendrick is riveting as the meth addict, in a role that requires considerable skill -- let's hope Houston theater sees more of him.

Many of the plays contain considerable humor, but On the Set at the Motel Tropicana by Eric James (a playwright to be watched) has an entertaining situation, a series of amusing surprises and a witty closing line, and delivers the strongest comedic punch. Joshua Costea plays the director of a porn film, while assistant Randi Hall helps him set up the lights, etc. A straight porn star (Gabriel Queiroga) enters, under the impression the gig is for a hetero film, and balks at the situation, but when the gay porn star (Chris Rivera) enters, complications and hilarity ensue. Chris Rivera directed as well, and captured both the rich humor and some interesting psychological insights.

Laugh Riot by Michael Weems explores one woman's need for humor as foreplay, and includes a dumb blond joke that is totally resistible, but you may catch me telling it. It is well-acted by Michael P. Shukis and Lee Anne Denny, who has considerable beauty and charm, but could improve her vocal projection. It is ably directed by Christine Weems.

The concept of one-set-fits-all provides the opportunity for variety and brevity, and is a valuable training ground for actors, playwrights and directors, as well as providing an evening of rich entertainment. Fortunately, Big Head Productions plans to continue this approach on occasion, and is seeking plays with an "office" theme, set in four cubicles; scripts may be mailed to [email protected]

The verdict:

Eight short plays, running the gamut from violent to hilarious, provide a most entertaining evening, aided by excellent acting and deft direction.

Motel Tropicana continues through February 4. It is produced by Big Head Productions at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, in the Heights. For information or tickets, call 832-889-7837 or email [email protected]

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Jim Tommaney