Short ’n’ sweet

2nd Story’s Wave 1 is a winner
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 11, 2006

BODY LANGUAGE: Kunkel and Roberts in Itch.
You can tell we’re deep into summer when: a) you can’t see the sand on your favorite beach; b) people wince when you move to slap them on the back; c) raucous laughter is steadily emitted from the upper floor of a certain building in Warren?

Most reliably the latter, since 2nd Story Theatre has kicked off its Short Attention Span Theatre with Wave 1 (through July 23). Seven short plays, no waiting; all but one a comedy, so not much time to rest your grin.

The settings range from a funeral parlor for some unconventional mourning to a drawing room for a silly send-up of a British parlor murder mystery. As with the next two waves heading toward us, there’s one by absurdist playwright Christopher Durang, which is topped in surreality by Shel Silverstein, of quirky children’s poetry fame.

The evening hits the stage drolly with Frederick Stroppel’s Single and Proud. Poor Steve (Jay Bragan) has paid 200 bucks for a singles seminar, where he hopes for some social mingling with the prospect of eventual commingling. But the only other attendee is Sylvia (Marilyn Meardon), twice his age and at least that much more horny. The psychologist running the show, Jackie (Paula Faber), grills him on such matters as his most embarrassing body part, and when an attractive class member, Jeanette (Lucia Gill Case), finally shows up, the male bashing begins in earnest.

Another Stroppel playlet is Itch. Tom Roberts is Ralph, a guy who’s just gotta get some relief, and Emily Kunkel is Chiffon, a streetwalker who aims to please but heads at first in the wrong direction. Ralph is desperate to have his back scratched, you see. Chiffon, with her Dragon Lady-long red stick-on nails, is a professional who is insulted that her years of practice and gymnastic prowess will be wasted on this ingrate.

The two Silverstein pieces are a shaggy dog story and a cautionary tale about the difficulty of parenting. Blind Willie and the Talking Dog says it all in the title. Eric Behr plays an old blues singer cadging coins on the street and guilt-tripping his faithful companion about not revealing that he’s a chatterbox when nobody’s around. Rick Concannon is perfectly cast as the mangy hound who won’t take it anymore, bulldog-gruff but looking ready to enthuse over a good belly scritch. The Best Daddy couldn’t be blacker comedy if the lights were out, so it’s disturbingly, deliciously hilarious. Daddy (Bragan) has strange notions about piquing the interest and appreciation of his son (Evan Kinnane) over his birthday present, which is covered up stage center. A whole theory of pop psychology could be built from this example of traumatizing a kid so that anything else will be a relief. A pity that Kinnane couldn’t have taught the young Macaulay Culkin how to make shock and awe look natural.

Playwright Christopher Durang is usually more absurdist than in Funeral Parlor, where he shows outlandish social ineptness to be quite ridiculous enough, thank you. Marcus (Devin Schiff), in Goth garb and black lipstick, blunders through condolences to Susan (Trisha McManus), the widow of a fellow bus-stop “friend” he hardly knew. If wisdom can come from the mouths of babes, it can cascade from the devoutly immature.

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