See our review of Museum of Dysfunction V: a Showcase of Shorts -- Group one.
The actors and director are locals, but the playwrights can come from anywhere in this program (Group Two) of Mildred's Umbrella's fifth annual tour of novel and exciting short plays.
There are four monologues and seven two-character plays, with the two-handers adding the bonus of chemistry to writing and acting talent. All are intriguing and several outstanding, among them No Sugar -- Mike McDermott as a patron in a diner and Melissa Mumper as the waitress deliver breezy self-confidence and salty give-and-take, convincing us with superb comic timing that the working class has all the fun. It's well-directed by Zoe Norcross in her directorial debut, and SNL might do well to grab its author, Philip Hall, with his gift for authentic, witty dialogue.
Prolific local playwright Eric James tackles a familiar theme in Level Six, as Satan meets a new arrival, but James stamps it with his own talented take. Brian Heaton plays the newcomer to Hell with rich body language and an irrepressible and engaging horny spirit, and the physically imposing John Patterson gives Satan dignity and style. The chemistry between them is compelling; it is well-directed by Leighza Walker, who also directed the wonderful Schadenfreude by Jason Rainey. This is the longest play (I wouldn't cut one second) and the most sophisticated and subtle. The writing could not be better: At a high-school reunion, bit by bit we glean what really happened to two marriages. Ashley Allison as the wife of the former Prom King plays "tipsy" with nuance and charm in an entrancing and flawless characterization. Ryan Kelly as the husband of the former Prom Queen is more of a foil, but is effective and credible, moving from an early instinct to flee the encounter to an active participant as secrets are revealed.
Summer Tough by Sam Graber finds a tyro commercial fisherman (Crash Buist) seasick from the motion of the ocean and heartsick from rejection by a girl he loves, as a veteran seafarer (Sam Smith) uses tough love and bullying to heal him. The characters and situation are vivid and amusing, and there is a surprise in store. It is directed by Rod Todd with admirable energy and pace. The familiar blind date setting is mined in Stanley and Michelle (Brad Winkler and Jennifer Flores) by prolific local playwright Peter Wittenberg, which under Jennifer Decker's direction provides some poignant moments. All the Answers by Mark Cornell has an innovative situation fraught with tension, and the play succeeds, but could work even better if director Kalob Martinez had encouraged Luke Fedell to slow down his rapid-fire delivery so we could savor the humor (it's there), and if Natalie Pawelek projected her voice early on, though she later corrected this. On a Tuesday Afternoon by Alicia Lyons was so brief that it was over while I was still sorting out a puzzling relationship, with London Alexander and Regina Ohashi, directed by Paige Wharton.
And the monologues? Vivid acting by Osbie Shepard and deft direction by Rod Todd bring Richard Slota's We All Walk in Shoes Too Small to exciting life, as we meet Norman, whose passion for shoes rivals most amusingly that of Imelda Marcos. Pomegranate by Jason Goldberg is cynical and amusing, acted with charm and beauty by Lydia Lara. Lying Makes Me a God by Meron Langsner is given a haunting quality by actor John Wind as negative projection is recognized and acted upon. Jackie Pender-Lovell commands the stage like a trouper in Jeanine Waits for a Train by Anne Phelan, directed by Leighza Walker, but the character is such a nasty bit of baggage that I felt slimed by having met her, despite the variety and power of Pender-Lovell.
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The professionalism of all involved in this production is staggering -- it takes the "small" out of "small theater." While providing a chance for writers, actors and directors to gain experience and showcase their talents, it also provides rich and varied entertainment to the audience. It makes for a memorable evening.
The run is short, ending tomorrow, August 18, so make every effort to catch these theatrical treasures. Group 2 is a rich and exciting program -- humor cascades like a Niagara of mirth, as triumph is piled on triumph.
Museum of Dysfunction V: a Showcase of Shorts, Group II continues through August 18, from Mildred's Umbrella, at Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. For information or ticketing, call 832-463-0409 or contact the company's Web site.