For three years now, on the midweek evenings when their main stage show is off and the theater is normally "dark," Mad Horse has staged a whole second batch of theatrical diversions. This year, director Aurora White brings together three short comedies by Christopher Durang, David Ives, and local actor and playwright James Hoban, in an evening billed as Midge's Section: Three Short Comedic Entrees. All are set in the same restaurant, in which characters lounge with coffees and novels as they await their own scenes, occasionally looking up at other people's dramas, or accepting a drink or a wink from the colorful waitress, Midge (Tara McDonough).
The triptych starts with Hoban's Recruiting, which I thought the smartest script of the evening. In this clever little cultural satire, an older gentleman in a suit (William McCue) ventures to (correctly) peg his younger tablemate (the Phoenix's own Nicholas Schroeder) as gay, then goes on to reveal that the entire world is actually run by his monster multi-national corporation, known simply as Straight. The operation is everywhere, he says wittily, "except for a few streets in Chelsea." Hoban's script is sharp and quick, though its delivery could sometimes stand some more speed, and McCue executes some funny little flourishes of smarminess.
As the suit goes back to his Times, a platinum blonde in red patent leather shoes (Amanda Huotari) sweeps in for a reunion with her ex-husband of 10 years (David Murray). This is Durang's Canker Sores and Other Distractions, and as the title suggests, this couple's reconciliation is no perfect night of champagne and foie gras. Though the script itself goes on a little long, Huotari is winningly outrageous, and Murray's ex-husband reverts to puerile male passive aggression with a cringe-inducing authenticity. It's funny 'cause it's true.
Finally, Bill (Burke Brimmer) seeks to sit in the empty seat next to Faulkner-reading Betty (Amanda Painter) in Ives's Sure Thing. He blows it at inquiry number one. Then a bell rings, and he blows it again, but differently. After the bell rings a few more times, he's actually gotten his ass into the chair, and later there follow myriad iterations of views on Faulkner, Woody Allen, and the institution of marriage. The lovely Painter has poise and visible intelligence that are a delight to watch, and both actors have impressive internal restart buttons. They also give their reworked lines enough nuance to keep the scene charged, as Bill and Betty's exchanges arc optimistically toward the best of all possible pick-ups.
Midge's Section: Three Short Comedic Entrees | Directed by Aurora White | Produced by Mad Horse Theatre Company | at Lucid Stage, Portland | Mon-Wed through October 20 | 207.730.2389