The second part of HBO’s four-part festival of one-acts shows that the cabler is onto something. The evening showcases five plays — true theater, not pseudo TV — by three talented and keen-eyed writers. Each play moves to the next so fast and fluidly, it’s clear HBO has also discovered a gifted working crew, three adept directors and several amazing performers.
The evening begins on an amiable note with Dwight Okita’s “The Spirit Guide,” directed by Cathleen Fitzpatrick. In a monologue, Nick (Steve Park) rhapsodizes about a woman he dated who admits to having a spirit guide that helps her. The guide gets in the way of their relationship.
“The Answer to My Prayer” by Nancy de los Santos brings even richer humor with the story of Eve (Ada Maris), an independent woman whose relatives and friend prod her into finding Mr. Right. They have her pray to her Mexican grandmother’s patron saint, San Antonio — which seems to have an effect.
Maris creates a likable character who throws herself into a universe of dudes who are duds. Two distant cousins are hilariously presented by Renee Victor and Lillian Hurst.
Director Tony Plana uses the stage well in establishing numerous locations and striking the right tone.
The heat of the evening is turned up with three monologues by Will Scheffer. Well-formed, with nuance in the writing and power in the acting, each play examines a different man who grapples with his homosexuality.
“Alien Boy” is about a man (Daniel Parker), dressed in a sailor suit, who recalls his 13th birthday. He eschewed his Jewishness and did not have a Bar Mitzvah. He had many worries about his growing sense of homosexuality, and his mother added to the pain. In addition, his late father’s first son died and was cremated in a concentration camp on his 13th birthday.
Parker performs well — drawing humor, yet with the anguish glowing clearly.
“Fire Dance” begins with a banker type (Gerry McIntyre) stating that before he went on Prozac, he was a different man. He relates his attempted suicide and his salvation by a drag queen who taught him all about the lifestyle.
He became Crystal Chandelier, a transvestite who could perform a fire dance with passion. While he tells the story, he takes off his tailored suit and slowly becomes Crystal in a no-holds-barred perf.
“Falling Man” punctuates Scheffer’s facility with poetic imagery. A man (Michael Malone Starr), dressed in a robe and underwear, stands on the top edge of a building, thinking about falling. He recounts his years as a dancer, of how in 1983 he and his partner, a Russian woman, won the title of best cha-cha dancers in the world. His world changed that night, and he tells why with humor and poignancy. Starr captivates.
Director Beth Milles uses the nearly bare stage exceptionally, eliciting from her performers neither cliche nor sentimentality, but the feelings of life and death.
Joe Romano’s complex sound design, called on often in the evening, reinforces moments well. Mark Worthington’s quickly adaptable set, the light design by Teresa Enroth and Emanuel Treeson, and costume design by Melissa Merwin lend polish to the show in the new, comfortable Stella Adler Theatre.