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Estimated Time of Arrival

If the Thirteenth Night Theater Company had set out to scour the dramatic repertoire for the gloomiest possible takes on contemporary relationships, it couldn't have come up with a more unholy quintet than the one-acts that comprise "Estimated Time of Arrival."

With:
Eva, She, Luce - Jamie Proctor Rob, Bo, Paul - Reese Madigan Andy, He, Graham - Ethan James Duff Marisa, Laurel, Carol - Sarah Megan Thomas

If the Thirteenth Night Theater Company had set out to scour the dramatic repertoire for the gloomiest possible takes on contemporary relationships, it couldn’t have come up with a more unholy quintet than the one-acts that comprise “Estimated Time of Arrival.” Performed by a cast of four and helmed by Drew DeCorleto with varying degrees of success, the plays leave an overall impression of alienation and affectlessness sure to make even the loneliest single opt to stay in with the cat.

Evening opens conventionally with Amy Fox’s “Double Click,” a series of overlapping encounters among four subscribers to an online Jewish dating service. Its jokes don’t really land, and in the spirit of the evening it comes to a somewhat melancholy end, but Reese Madigan amusingly conveys the alarmed defensiveness of a thrice-burned veteran of the dating wars, and Sarah Megan Thomas has an icy allure.

“Methinks,” Lisa Ebersole’s reunion at a party of a long-separated couple, breezes by in a whisper of mild one-upmanship. But slight as it is, one would readily sit through it again rather than experience play No. 3, “Hang Up.”

Originally written as a BBC radio performance, it won big-screen habitue Anthony Minghella the 1988 Prix Italia, the criteria for which cannot have included humor, tension or coherence. An American, He (Ethan James Duff), and a Brit, She (Jamie Proctor, whose vowels are pure U.S.A.), may be a couple, or exes, or a stalker and victim. They may live in the same building or on different continents. But whatever: they talk on the phone. And talk. Fulfillment of title’s promise is long in coming.

The inanity of the conversation — is each alone? Yes; no; maybe — is paralleled by staging inexplicably averse to giving visual life to a work conceived for audio presentation. The characters mostly stare fixedly forward. He strips to his boxers. She stands up once or twice.

Things get livelier and stakes get raised in Michael Weller’s 1977 “Split: Part One,” in the familiar course of which a seemingly contented couple (Thomas and Madigan) scarf down just enough white wine to reveal the secrets and jealousies that each has been harboring. Though both, especially Madigan, wake up and become invested in this one, the company seemingly prefers to remain cool and cerebral rather than pull out emotional stops, even when the text justifies heat.

The snappiest entry is saved for last. Fox’s “The Man Who Didn’t Own a Hatshop” begins a la the game in “Annie Hall” in which Alvy and Annie speculate about the lives of passers-by. In a cafe two strangers (Proctor and Duff) take the game to the next level by claiming intimate connections to other patrons, and then professing that the stories are lies. Or are they?

As lights fade the two seem to have made a romantic connection, yet we know its foundation is the same tissue of untruths and uncertainty that bedeviled the principals in plays 1 through 4. Is love inevitably the victim of mendacity? Fox’s qualified “yes” brings a moody evening full circle. No bar-hopping tonight; time to feed that cat.

Estimated Time of Arrival

Urban Stages Theater; 65 seats; $18 top

Production: A Thirteenth Night Theater Company presentation of five one-act plays by Amy Fox, Lisa Ebersole, Anthony Minghella and Michael Weller. Directed by Drew DeCorleto.

Creative: Sets, David Evans Morris; costumes, Jessa-Raye Court; lighting, Juliet Chia; sound, Michael L. Cooper; production stage manager, Carol A. Sullivan. Opened Jan. 19, 2007. Reviewed Jan. 25. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Eva, She, Luce - Jamie Proctor Rob, Bo, Paul - Reese Madigan Andy, He, Graham - Ethan James Duff Marisa, Laurel, Carol - Sarah Megan Thomas

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