Noted New York theater company Naked Angels makes its West Coast debut with “Naked at the Coast.” For anyone thinking of producing a festival of one-act plays, this is the show to emulate. Many of the pieces are gems, and not a second is wasted. The acting, directing and set changes are all executed crisply. Nine plays and one intermission come in at two hours.
Founded seven years ago, Naked Angels has been devoted to serious theater, with many of its founding members gaining notoriety, including actors Rob Morrow , Mary Stuart Masterson, Marisa Tomei, Ron Rifkin, Nancy Travis and Fisher Stevens, and writers Jon Robin Baitz and Frank Pugliese.
“Naked at the Coast,” while not offering any high-profile actors, nonetheless presents a top-notch cast and takes its pieces from five seasons of its “Issues Projects,” which involved many non-member playwrights.
Baitz’s “Coq Au Vin,” directed by Robert Egan, is a story of two actors (Jace Alexander and Bradley White) dressed as chickens at a fair, trying to find meaning in their desperate work, rekindling purpose and affection for each other. Its allusions stretch far beyond the scene, and it is one of the few pieces of the evening where the central characters show goodness.
Baitz’s other piece, “Four Monologues,” directed by Risa Bramon Garcia, tackles head-on opposing views of goodness in terms of what benefits society. The first two monologues (with White and Conchata Ferrell) contrast each other powerfully; the second two (with Cynthia Mace and Geoffrey Nauffts) get lost in intellectualism and redundancy.
Pippin Parker’s “Baby Gators,” directed by Charley Lang, has two homeless New Yorkers (Paul S. Eckstein and Willie Garson) finding shelter in a sewer. While the dialogue is forgettable, the men’s actions, their tenderness, remain vivid. Here, Robert Murphy’s sound design stars, with a constant drip and echoey voices a reminder of where the men are.
Terrence McNally’s ambitious “The Wibbly, Wobbly, Wiggly Dance That Cleopatterer Did,” directed by Ray Cochran, steps inside a bedroom where two naked men (Peter Gregory and Michael Mastrototaro) sit side-by-side on a bed. What at first appears seamy and uncomfortably voyeuristic ends as gentle and philosophical.
“Sex With the Censor” by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Alexander, takes a much harder view of people and sex for sale. A prostitute (Gina Gershon) tries to satisfy her edgy client (Billy Strong). Gershon’s performance lends this cynical piece a hint of humanity.
Craig Lucas’ “Throwing Your Voice,” directed by Alexander, is heavy-handed. Two couples in their early 30s (Steven Weber, Kelly Wolf, Tim Ransom, and Jodie Markell) chat about people’s responsibilities for other people’s harsh lives. If you buy a product, ignorant of potential violations of human rights in its manufacture, are you nonetheless responsible for any misdeeds?
The remaining three pieces, the first three of the evening — Frank Pugliese’s “The Cause,” Peter Hedges’ “Chicken Potential” and Nicole Burdette’s “That’s Nice”– come across mainly as character sketches in search of a play.
Much commendation goes to the swift crew that sweeps George Xenos’ abbreviated sets on and off. The light designs by Todd Devane lend additional individuality to each piece.