Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company presents its sixth annual presentation of short plays, this time in collaboration with Wordsmyth Theatre, under the collective title Museum of Dysfunction VI. Week One has ten short plays, and Week Two a different set, with these winners having been culled from more than 200 submissions.
With limited rehearsal time, a phalanx of actors, directors, stagehands and playwrights converge to create works with considerable variety, characters with marked vitality, and insights that range from sensitive appreciation of encroaching death, to joyous celebration of erotic impulses, with a nod to enduring relationships somewhere in between. The level of performance is thoroughly professional, and Mildred's Umbrella seems able to accomplish this without breathing heavily.
The opening entry is "Milo and Barbara", by Daniel Guyton, which has an intriguing set-up, and an ironic ending, as a husband returns home after an unexplained absence of four weeks to discover some unexpected changes have occurred. It is psychologically interesting, and gifted actors Matt Benton as Milo and Courtney Lomelo as Barbara find both the intensity and the humor, and create an intriguing portrait of a marriage leaving a lot to be desired. The work is directed by Melissa Flower, who found the energy and pace.
Jennifer Decker plays Helen in "After Breakfast" by Rich Orloff, delivering a monologue addressed to an offstage husband, as she reviews the bills, determining which to pay, as financial downsizing is called for. In the course of her comments, we learn why funds are tight, but Helen's remarks paint her as less than serious about the predicament, not one that canceling cable would solve - her husband takes the situation more to heart. It is directed by Rod Todd, who keeps us entertained with Helen's chatter until the denouement.
In "What Do You Know" by William Missouri Downs, two mothers with children in strollers chat on a park bench, and exchange differing views on everything, from the benefits of breast-feeding on up, agreeing on nothing, with each citing her source -- television pundits and media. The writing is sprightly and amusing, with wonderfully energetic, charming characterizations of young mothers by Ashley Allison and Danitra Luers. It is directed by Rob Kimbro, who found its low-key, gentle wit.
L. Robert Westeen wrote "The Pasture", sensitively directed by Julian Brashears, as a dying artist leaves the hospital to resume painting. John Wind plays the artist and delivers the joy, against all odds, of a painter savoring the act of creation. Matt Benton as his friend captures the desperation of helplessness in the face of another's death.
On a lighter note, in "Out from Under with Mary" by Chris Swanson, Dennis Draper plays Mary, a bagman or bagwoman - it hardly matters, since Draper's light-hearted charm could span a multitude of sexualities. Mary chats with Diane (Kara Ray), showing a picture of Mary's son -- since the real photo had been stolen or misplaced, one of Brad Pitt has been delightfully substituted. Director Michelle Edwards found the warmth and camaraderie of the underprivileged.
Beefcake and female pulchritude entered boldly in the final two entries. "End of the World" by Reginald Edmund, has a heterosexual couple, Jarred Tettey and Christie Stryk, quarreling because she has made a sexual gesture which offends his masculinity, while Blake Weir and Nick Reid play a gay couple at odds because one has called the other a bitch. The dialogue switches back and forth in counterpoint to mark the similarity in neurotic insecurity, despite differing sexualities. The cast here is in bathing suits, and in the final entry, "Pumpernickel" by Eric James, the man (Darnea Olson) is in underwear and the woman (Autumn Clack) in a dominatrix outfit, as role-playing is afoot. The actors for both these amusing plays are excellent. Ron Jones directed both, and found the light touch that permitted their charm and humor to emerge.
An avant-garde troupe delivers poignant moments, shrewd insights and sparkling wit, in ten short plays that are remarkable for the polish of the acting and direction. See them for a most enjoyable evening.
Museum of Dysfunction VI continues through December 14, with the plays reviewed here presented through December 7, and a different set of plays presented December 12 to 14. From Mildred's Umbrella at Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. For information or ticketing, call 832-463-0409 or contact www.mildredsumbrella.com.