Evenings of one-acts are always a grab bag, even when they’re all the work of as esteemed a playwright as Lanford Wilson.
The program of Wilson’s short plays being staged by Theatre District’s satellite group, the BackLot Repertoire, under the direction of Shannon Hunt, is no exception.
The one-act, because of its brevity, is much more difficult a form than the more leisurely full-length play. Whether a one-act is character- or plot-driven, it requires a strong core, but Wilson only goes halfway in these three glimpses of contemporary life.
The opener, “Ludlow Fair,” is frequently done because it provides strong roles for two actresses. Rachel (Gwen Yeager) is in a fit. Joe, the latest in her long line of boyfriends, has stolen money from her and her roommate, Agnes (Terri Smith). Rachel turned him in to the authorities, who discovered that he had a long history of crime. Rachel, who claims to love him still, is prostrate with guilt. Agnes has a wiser view. Both actresses define their characters well, but neither they nor the director goes much beyond what’s in the script. It’s fun but very superficial.
In “Breakfast at the Track,” a young married couple are vacationing at a bed-and-breakfast, and their problem is even more lightweight than Rachel’s and Agnes’ minor trauma. He (P.J. Agnew) is a morning person, and She (director Hunt) is a night person. Their 6:30 a.m. battle over whether to rise and shine is as deep as it gets. The key is the detail and comic invention of the actors and the amusing insight into the delicacy of the wedded state. Agnew and Hunt are honest and very, very funny.
Steve Howard, as Mr. Kermit Wasserman in “A Betrothal,” also stands out for a well-defined, intricate and often hilarious portrait of a fey iris breeder at a flower show. His Big Judy and Little Tanya irises are of exquisite hue, but not as vigorous and healthy as the Little Soldier bred by starchy Ms. J.H. Joslyn (Nancy Petersen).
The violence of their battle, which settles into a sort of betrothal between the plants, is a not-too-subtle sideswipe at these personality types and rings true. Petersen lets her acting show--it’s called “indicating” in the trade--and hasn’t formed an honest characterization. It’s Howard’s show.
Director Hunt’s rhythms and tempos work well, but she hasn’t looked below the surface of “Ludlow Fair,” and the imbalance of performances in “A Betrothal” allows the viewer to laugh at Petersen’s performance rather than with it.
* “An Evening of One-Act Plays by Lanford Wilson,” Theatre District, 2930 Bristol St., Suite C-106, Costa Mesa. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Jan. 28. $10. (714) 435-4043. Running time: 2 hours.
Gwen Yeager: Rachel
Terri Smith: Agnes Mulligan
P.J. Agnew: He
Shannon Hunt: She
Nancy Petersen: Ms. J.H. Joslyn
Steve Howard: Mr. Kermit Wasserman
A Theatre District BackLot Repertoire production of three one-acts by Lanford Wilson, executive producer Bonnie Vise. Directed by Shannon Hunt. Lighting design: David B. Contreras. Sound design: Bonnie Vise. Stage manager: Joan Lescot.