COUPLING Chipman and Caraman in Charming.
Wave II of the Black Box Theatre One Act Play Festival at the Artists' Exchange is going for duets, for the most part, through August 12. Only one of the seven short plays is a trio, and it too is about sparks that can be struck, whether to flame into romance or emotional conflagration, whenever two people meet.
Drama is all about conflict, which certainly comes in ragtag variety, as sampled here. First and last are two stories of dates gone complicated, written by the same playwright, and we get other tales of strangers meeting, embarrassing questions being asked, a horrific experience related, and a surreal ramble through a fertile if twisted imagination, this time around all helmed by festival artistic director Rich Morra.
That opening first date story presents relatively normal people, but by the end of the evening we are prepared for someone outlandish, and playwright Mark Harvey Levine obliges. First Charming sits us down with Jennifer (Cassia Chipman) and Matthew (Anthony Caraman). Since they are at her place, she is more assured, telling him lightly about a recent breakup with "another prince, not so charming"; he seems a bit nervous and yet a little romantically aggressive at the same time. When it's his turn to share his last breakup and he says it was with Dan and she determines that she didn't hear wrong, Jennifer quips, "I don't think I have enough wine for this." This piece is written smartly and wittily. He insists that he's been converted to hetero by a program through his church. Dubious, she asks him if he thought that the waiter at the restaurant that evening was cute, and he retorts: "I could find beauty in a butterfly — it doesn't make me a bumblebee." Interesting take on what could have been clichéd.
Levine's concluding play, The Folks, has Scot (Tom Chace) about to have a first date dinner with Wendy (Melissa Penick) at her place. He's relaxed and she's a wreck, leaving a container of toy cars on the table instead of a centerpiece — but she does recover nicely by saying he can play with them while she prepares. It's not as easy to cover up, though, when she starts blurting recriminations in harsh voices like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Others may have parents' voices reprimanding us inside our heads, but Mom and Dad are out and about for Wendy. Cute bit, well performed.
Barbara Schweitzer's Cyjoe Barker in Amish Country is a hoot. Christina Mealey plays the antic, addled title character like Katharine Hepburn directed by John Waters in Buckaroo Banzai. With pursed fire engine-red lips and a mid-Atlantic accent, she is a recently chloroformed detective who dug her way out of a root cellar with her trusty Jimmy Choos, ready to solve the mystery of an Amish couple, "newly wed, newly dead." Her trusty though tardy assistant, Max O'Clapimen (Chris White), offers oddly monotone, affectless observations, as their only suspect — Hardhearted Hedgehog video game creator Dexter Manacle (Chace) — tries to squirm out of suspicion. Silly but entertaining.