Slices of strife

2nd Story’s Short Attention 2 is a winner  
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 2, 2006

BELLES: Thompson and Fayan.
Once more, with feeling. Wave 2 of 2nd Story Theatre’s trio of summer Short Attention Span Theatre presentations is upon us, and we’re all but drenched with laughter.

This time the short plays have an edgy realism to them — more dramedies than outright comedies. The seven slices of strife do include a couple of farcical pieces to leave us laughing before the intermission and final curtain. But this is an evening that will also satisfy those who like their theatrical confections with chewy centers.

That broadly encompassing tone is set by the opener, James Prideaux’s Lemonade, directed by Joanne Fayan. Two suburban housewives, with all the dissatisfactions that might imply, set up lemonade stands across a roadway from each other, the sort of quirky joke that whimsical, suppressed imaginations pop up with. It doesn’t hurt that one middle-aged empty-nester has spiked her brew with gin, the other with vodka, so conversations shouted over traffic soon become revealing. Mabel (Carole Collins) is looking forward to “a nice, gentle, painless decay.” Edith (Linda Monchik) is humbled by the accomplishments revealed in cosmetics magnate Elizabeth Arden’s recent obit. There are surprises in store: don’t be too dismayed at Mabel’s casual reaction to Edith’s recent loss of her children to a fire; it wasn’t all that hot.

Similar character unfolding and development makes Gene Ruffini’s A Grave Encounter enjoyable. Marianna (Rae Mancini) is visiting her father’s grave on Father’s Day, chattering a mile a minute to the gravesite. Pasquale (Vince Petronio) shows up apologizing to his tombstone for being late. They talk over each other awhile until Marianna notices that, as far as Pasquale is concerned, his father is talking back. What follows is Italian-American bonding of what could be cultural stereotypes but is too specifically drawn and nicely off-center — she’s the brash one and he has a tick about apologizing. Two lonely people have never met more entertainingly.

Two of the pieces extend what could have started out as actors’ workshop exercises. Jeffrey Sweet’s Cover, directed by Ryan Maxwell, has Marty (Walter Perez) pulling out every sophistic argument he can muster to get pal Frank (Alex Sherba) to lie about being together the night before, to fool his partner Dianne (Randi Buchanan). In John J. Wooten’s The Role of Della, we get an O. Henry ending, but not before a surly Emma (Paula Faber) puts Elizabeth (Catherine Boisseau) through humiliating audition paces from hell, barely withholding brimstone.

Seven Menus, by the ever-reliable and often called-upon David Ives, is an eight-actor game of musical marriages (or “marry-go-round,” as the program has it). It’s set over the course of several years in the waiting area of the restaurant of the title, where three couples, typically, chat. At each scene blackout one person is replaced, whether we saw it coming or not. Soon we begin guessing about character traits that will cause one person of a perhaps lovey-dovey couple to be cast off like last year’s designer jeans. Wine or martini glasses in hand, they banter and bicker, and we get déjà vu all over again. (With luck, someone in your audience will leap up and shout to them: “Noooo! Don’t believe [him/her]!”)

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