Review: ‘Theatre 40 One-Act Festival’

"John's Hand" One of the delights is "John's Hand," by Catherine Butterfield, in which a high-strung woman, Terry (Lisa Goodman), visits her astronautical engineer brother, John (Bill Dunlevy), at his new house in Westchester, N.Y.

“John’s Hand” One of the delights is “John’s Hand,” by Catherine Butterfield, in which a high-strung woman, Terry (Lisa Goodman), visits her astronautical engineer brother, John (Bill Dunlevy), at his new house in Westchester, N.Y.

John assembles a telescope for his young son while Terry, seeking “connection” to her life, searches for signs of love from her brother in their conversation. Her needs only confuse John.

Butterfield’s dialogue pulsates with metaphor and with a sense of the different states of mind in men and women. Director Michael Haney makes small moments speak volumes.

The other jewel is “Doing Something for Sally,” a lovely black comedy by Canadian Chris Ralph, directed seamlessly by Stephen Tobolowsky.

Unemployed carpenter Ted (Chip Heller) assists his wife, Marie (Gita Donovan) , in performing brain surgery on their 6-year-old daughter, Sally, in their unfinished basement. “With the cost of health insurance,” quips Marie, “pretty soon you’ll be seeing everyone operating on each other at home.”

The details lend grisly humor. Marie keeps her hands clean by using yellow dishwashing gloves. The daughter lays anesthetized, with two heavy football trophies wedging her head in place.

Ted watches perched on a nearby stack of auto tires, then touches his daughter’s pituitary gland after cleaning his finger with a baby wipe.

The play brings “togetherness” to new levels.

While Andre Barron, who produced the evening of one-acts, clearly likes writer Joe Pintauro’s work, the two Pintauro plays on the bill bring the evening down.

“Rosen’s Son,” while examining harsh emotional realities, comes off as over-the-top under Barron’s direction.

New York diamond merchant Rosen (Thom Keane-Koutsoukos) plans to kill himself in front of Eddie (James Bartz), the homosexual lover of Rosen’s late son. Rosen respected his son’s and Eddie’s relationship; in fact, he brought Eddie into the diamond business.

Eddie has a new roommate (Jonathan Read), a mere two months after Rosen’s son’s death. “Young people!” Rosen moans. “You replace other people like spark plugs.”

Pintauro, better known for his rigorous AIDS-therapy drama, “The Raft of the Medusa,” fares even worse with “Seymour in the Very Heart of Winter,” whose title provides the best writing.

It’s Christmas Eve, and limo-driver Joe (Demetrio James), in his chauffeur suit, dines with Vivienne (Rhonda Lord), ex-great actress who has been living with him and wallowing in her decline. Imagine “Sunset Boulevard” crossed with “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but without a laugh track.

The French dinner is costing Joe a lot, and he can’t stand Vivienne not eating her $ 20 fish.

Under Bruce Gray’s direction, Lord moves her mouth wide for every syllable, a poor parody of Gloria Swanson. Why Joe declares his undying love for her is a mystery. He’s absolutely right that she doesn’t appreciate him.

Designer Dave Carleen’s elaborate sets bring added texture not usually associated with one-act plays. Everything breaks down cleverly and quickly for the next play. The evening moves along.

His lighting designs on three plays evoke the right mood. On “Seymour,” however, the harsh lighting goes against the grain of a chic French restaurant, making the play even more tedious.

Sound design by Jeremy Grody is appropriate throughout.

Theatre 40 One-Act Festival

(Theatre 40, Beverly Hills; 99 seats; $ 10 top)

Production

Theatre 40 (William Frankfather, artistic director) presents four one-act plays, written by Catherine Butterfield, Chris Ralph and Joe Pintauro; directors , Michael Haney, Andre Barron, Stephen Tobolowsky, Bruce Gray; producer, Barron; set and lighting design, Dave Carleen; costumes, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; sound design, Jeremy Grody. Opened Jan. 11, 1995; reviewed Jan. 14; closes Feb. 5. Running time, 2 hours.

Cast

Terry ... Lisa Goodman John ... Bill Dunlevy Cynthia ...Michelle Manning "Rosen's Son" Rosen ... Thom Keane-Koutsoukos Eddie ... James Bartz Harrison ... Jonathan Read "Doing Something for Sally" Marie ... Gita Donovan Ted ... Chip Heller "Seymour in the Very Heart f Winter" Vivienne ... Rhonda Lord Joe ... Demetrio James Waiter ... James Bartz The sixth annual "One-Act Festival" at Theatre 40 brings four pieces by three playwrights, with each examining people needing other people. Two plays are true gems. The other two are not.
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