Second Week of Museum of Dysfunction VI Features Comedy, Romance and a Handshake That Never Ends

The set-up:

"Carpe Diem" is Latin for "Seize the Day", which could be the motif of Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company, as it produces 20 short plays, each one to appear for just three evenings. These have been selected from more than 200 submissions, and divided into two separate evenings of ten plays each; the second set is now playing. The Wordsmyth Theatre Company assisted in the production.

The execution:

It's sometimes surprising how much can be developed in ten or 15 minutes, and there are several examples at which to marvel. The evening opens with Caleb by Sam Havens, with veteran Carl Masterson playing Caleb as a mature manager of an art gallery, and Curtis Barber portraying a youthful Caleb in the same job. Both are excellent, and together they outline the life of a painter condemned to live on the outer edge of a career, but happy and comfortable since he is following his mother's advice: "Be grateful, and have expectations." The director, Melissa Flower, has found its sweetness, and its power.

Hand by Mark Cornell is an absurdist comedy, as a young man (Darnea Olson) asks for the hand in marriage of Lila (Arianna Bermudez) just as her parents (Amy Warren and Ryan Kelly) are separating. It is filled with energy, and pulses with life, and I hope it is expanded into a full-length play, as I wanted to see more of these characters. It's very well-acted, and directed with comic verve by Karen Schlag.

Jon Harvey stars in the monologue Sumatra by Tim Tarkelly, where Harvey self-directed, to good effect, as Harvey's talents abound. The work is an elaborate tale, and resonates hauntingly, like an Edgar Allan Poe mystery. Its handicap is that it is all exposition, and is really a short story, not a play, but Harvey holds our interest and makes it work.

The most sophisticated play is Epiphany by David MacGregor, as Ronald Reeder and Jennifer Decker portray a comfortably married couple, urbane and at ease - l'm sure they do the NY Times crossword puzzle in ink. The actors self-directed, and created an interesting vignette of a mid-life non-crisis, with a witty, revelatory twist at the end.

In The Proxy by Philip Kaplan, Great acting and deft direction by Ananka Kohnitz overcame the problematic theme of murdering a hospital patient - yes, this is a comedy. Susan Bray plays Isabelle and gives a wonderful, enthusiastic, full throttle performance as she assaults her comatose husband (Rod Todd). Kevin Bray plays the intervening doctor, and could not be better - I hope to see him in important lead roles. And even Todd adds wit from his coma.

Honestly by Steven Korbar has a young couple breaking up, and is directed by Bree Bridger. Michi MacMahon plays the girl in a charming, vibrant, nuanced performance that sparkles. But the young man (Rohan Sinha) fails to generate the same electricity, weakening the evolving conflict.

Let Go, also by Steven Korbar, has Miguel Garcia shaking the hand of Cameron Dunbar, and refusing to release it, so that the entire work is played with this conjoinment, an amusing novelty. It is also interesting, a tale of resentment that is resolved, with a powerful ending. It is well-acted, with plausible intensity, and sensitively directed by Bree Bridger.

Absent Grace, by Claudia Barnett, has a man (Ryan Kelly) seeking forgiveness from a woman who looks like his dead lover (Amy Warren). Warren is terrific, varied and compelling, but Kelly plays the man as a sad sack, while a more electric performance might raise the stakes. It has a payoff that works, and is directed by Elizabeth Seabolt-Esparza.

The verdict:

The strength of short plays is documented with ten entries, always interesting and with flashes of brilliance, power and wit, enhanced by acting that can be strikingly excellent. Museum of Dysfunction VI continues through December 14, from Mildred's Umbrella at Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. For information or ticketing, call 832-463-0409 or contact www.mildredsumbrella.com.

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