A Long Night Out
Despite an encouraging beginning, several refreshing portrayals and a few side-splitting moments, the Mirror Image's evening of three one-act plays starts to run out of steam after the second offering. That's understandable, given that two and a half hours is about as long as most people are willing to watch anything that isn't of Shakespearean or operatic proportions. By the time the third piece is under way and the evening approaches the three-and-a-half-hour mark, though, it's difficult to keep paying attention until the performers finish eliciting their last hard-earned guffaw.
But who can blame the relative newcomers for wanting to share every iota of their enthusiasm for these regional premieres? In fact, director Brantley M. Dunaway and crew seem so determined to make their offering a success that they've hauled what seems like a truckload of vintage props and furniture to decorate the stage (an ambitious choice that unfortunately necessitates two fifteen-minute intermissions to accommodate set changes between plays). They've also approached every scene, no matter how inconsequential, with a disproportionate respect for the material--when a lighter touch might have nurtured the comic potency of these madcap-with-a-moral plays.
Still, the actors manage to earn sustained laughter throughout the evening's first offering, The Line That Picked Up 1000 Babes (And How It Can Work for You!), which is the first half of Babes and Brides, dramatist Eric Berlin's two-act look at superficial relationships and the nature of love. The play takes place in a gaudy singles bar ripe with imaginative pick-up techniques, such as when a pelvis-thrusting Benny (R. Kent Randell) sashays across the checkerboard floor to the accompaniment of a pulsating tune and strikes a few punctuating chords on an air piano as he lip-synchs the lyrics "Watch out, here I come." Amid the free flow of cheap drinks (one patron nurses a forty-ounce beer), six lonely people drift in and out of suggestion-laden conversations. While much in the hour-long play is enjoyably predictable, Warren Sherrill's delightfully sloshy turn as Charlie, a nondescript office worker who's too drunk to remember who he's slept with lately, easily steals the show. (This despite the fact that the biggest jerk in the joint on opening night proved to be an audience member who nonchalantly took four incoming calls on his cell phone.)
Things slow down considerably during Midnight Moonlight Wedding Chapel (the second half of Babes and Brides, it's also a stand-alone one-act). Set in a Las Vegas storefront complete with neon cross, velvet Elvis paintings and a clock with appropriately configured plastic dice at the numeral positions, the fifty-minute work explores the plight of two couples--one too serious and the other too capricious--who get married in quickie ceremonies. Apart from a few humorous one-liners, though, this piece seems filled with more desert air than comic verve.
Finally, there's WASP, a sendup of Fifties suburbia penned by stand-up comic Steve Martin, whose full-length Picasso at the Lapin Agile was given a rousing production at the Denver Center Theatre Company last fall. Written in a broad, cartoonish style that brings to mind Arthur Kopit's satire of the country-club set, The Day the Whores Came Out to Play Tennis, the forty-minute piece skewers the Protestant work ethic (Dad says he'll buy his son a bike in exchange for the boy's erecting a seven-story building downtown) as well as examining the family's growing fear that they're living a lie. Although Dunaway and company's approach isn't as razor-sharp as Martin's double-edged dialogue, the actors succeed in suggesting the darker aspects of the playwright's commentary.
With some judicious cutting and the removal of unnecessary pauses, the promising performers might succeed in shaving twenty minutes or more from the evening's taxing length. Still, it's probably better to produce the Martin piece separately as, say, a late-night offering elsewhere (the folks at the Mercury Cafe, for instance, might take an interest) or eliminate the middle play altogether and save it for another, more streamlined evening of spirited one-acts.
Three One-Act Plays, presented by Mirror Image through April 10 at the Denver Civic Theatre, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-595-3800.
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