Each year the Echo Theater Company puts together a program of one acts, and this year, each one takes place around a bed. Otherwise, they vary in quality and style.
In Brian Tanen ‘s The Optimist, directed by Amanda Saunders, a young British bobby (Parker Phillips) and a veteran female Chief Inspector (Tara Karsian) meet at a crime scene. They are investigating the disappearance of the Darling children; the cheerful rookie expects they’ve gone for a walk –or perhaps, he hypothesizes laughingly, “flown away” — while his grim superior anticipates the worst. The comedy spins around his clumsy chauvinistic comments and their personality clash, but the piece also speaks affectingly to the difference in perspectives between youth and age. Parker displays comic gifts, and Karsian is rock solid as his unsmiling foil.
The strengths in Laileen on the Way Down by Jen Silverman, directed by Alana Dietze, are in character and performance rather than story. A hooded man (Jesse Fair) and his elderly mother (Carol Locatell) break into a trailer to recover the dentures she left behind during a romantic tryst. The silly opening sequence ultimately segues into a confrontation between Fair’s controlling son and his mother’s laidback lover (Dan Hagen), a fine piece of acting from both performers. Locatell’s perky life-loving matron also transcends caricature.
Directed by Chris Fields, Miki Johnson’s “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Ritchie pivots around a hooker (a sensual, nicely underplayed Erin Washington) who furnishes her clients with counsel and comfort as well as cruder carnal services. It’s a well-etched, if somewhat idealized, slice of life’s underside. All four performers — Washington and the three men, played by Justin Huen, Karl Herlinger and Gareth Williams — are on point, but it is Williams’ alcoholic amputee whose story becomes the compelling highlight.
As We Sleep by John Lavachielli features Jennifer Chambers and Michael McColl as a middle-class couple whose uneventful togetherness comes apart after the wife begins badgering her husband about the well-being of their marriage. Though well-played, the script is too long and the outcome utterly predictable. General Sherman’s Hollow Body, by writer/director Wesley Walker, is a surreal piece built around an encounter between a proper Irish maidservant (Alana Dietze) and a boorish man (Darrett Sanders) whom the maidservant and her sister (Jeanette McMahon) plot to murder.
The most insubstantial work, Shawna Casey’s What Are You Doing on the Bed?, is a rooted-in-sex power struggle between Sugar Puss (Sarah Jane Morris), a smug and taunting cat, and Rex (Garrett Hansen), a supplicating dog. Casey’s dialogue is a just cut above improv, and with or without the animal conceit, the lording of power of one creature over another registers as a pointlessly cruel repetitive exercise.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; through August 24. (310) 307-3753, www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.
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