With its festival of 15 one-act plays, Showtime Network has plunged into development of theatrical material for possible bigscreen and small-screen use. The first leg of the experiment, conducted by producers Jerry Levine and Risa Bramon Garcia, is an unqualified success, with four finely honed pieces with a sharp theatrical edge.
Best of “Act One: Evening A’s” four plays comes, appropriately, at the end. “Sticks and Stones,” by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, offers a red-hot exploration of racism and communication neatly packaged in a Los Angeles lawyer’s office.
An Italian cop named Sal (Louis Mustillo) has been reviled in the press for killing a 14-year-old black in the line of duty. He turns to a slick, smarmy lawyer named Alan Klein (Jonathan Silverman), who has no patience for locker-room racism.
As they bicker over semantics, a predictable theme of society’s failure to communicate develops. But writers McWeeny and Swan push that further, probing for the inevitable link between “harmless” words and violence.
The piece could use some trimming as it descends occasionally into a diatribe on the plight of urban blacks, but it sizzles when it sticks to specifics.
Mustillo and Silverman compose intriguing portraits of questionable characters, especially the former as the tortured cop who is convinced that it’s the world that’s screwy and not him.
The 40-minute short has potential as a small-budget feature and certainly displays some writing talent.
David Rasche wrote and directed “Jackie,” a searing portrait of an overweight Hollywood agent whose health and career are failing.
Diana Bellamy, in a fluid turn as the title character, huffs and puffs her way through a blitzkrieg monologue at a client whose thesp career is on the rise.
Ostensibly a sketch, it quickly turns dramatic when we realize she’s only spitting out rapid-fire patter because she’s afraid of losing him.
As dark as the play turns, Rasche keeps things light. After one particularly noxious spell of hacking from smoking, Jackie says, “I lied to Disney and this is the judgment.”
In Sam Henry Kass’ “Dice and Cards,” two Little Italy thugs do battle verbally and physically in a gambling hall. Kass borrows from David Mamet in style and form.
Game-hall owner Sal (Robert Pastorelli), all gold watches and pinkie rings, is continually frustrated by the buffoonery of one of his head operators, Richie (Adam Goldberg).
The relationship and the language remind of Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” Kass correctly captures the rhythms and pacing of the gutteral jabs. Garcia’s helming keeps things lively, but wittiest turn came from set designer Yael Pardess with pix of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren and the pope adorning the brick wall.
David Simpatico’s “Wish Fulfillment” relies on too easy a theatrical device to chart the difficulty of a young man (Kirk Baltz) trying to tell his blue-collar father (Jack Wallace) that he’s gay. The play presumably takes place in the kid’s mind. Each scene provides a different reaction from the father, ranging from a hug and a pat on the back to a heart attack to a bullet in the young man’s chest.
Piece ends on a dark note, but Simpatico’s trenchant dialogue and helmer Jenny Sullivan’s lightning pacing give it some zest.
Film critic Vincent Canby’s “After All” had been skedded as part of “Evening A.” But veteran thesp John Randolph was ill and the performance was pulled.
The plays were chosen from more than 2,000 submissions nationwide.