A precocious New York theater company called Naked Angels has returned to the Coast Playhouse (where it staged its West Coast debut last June) for what L.A. theatergoers can only hope is an annual gig.
This 40-plus company, based in a basement theater in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, is an artful group of actors, writers, directors and designers who have taken the overworked idea of a one-act orgy and turned it into a magical evening of plays, most of them running 10-12 minutes.
The L.A. theater community is top-heavy with one-act play festivals; the difference this company brings to the science and soul of short plays is its airy, almost pristine look with highly disciplined craftsmanship.
The troupe’s typical approach, as exemplified in Ned Eisenberg’s hilarious “Fruits and Nuts,” is to turn a cliched situation into a pure romp that depends on body language infinitely more than the conventions of dialogue and plot (Joumana Rizk inventively helming co-stars Eisenberg and Laura Jane Salvato).
In the evening’s most original, funny and challenging work, “Midnight and Morning Rain” by Patrick Breen, four blue-collar guys full of macho swagger betray their homophobia. While tripping down memory lane, they hilariously betray personal homosexual behavior with one another in a backyard swimming pool when they were juveniles.
It leads to denial and a brutal fight that drains the stage of its lingering levity; the piece is memorably acted by Titus Weliver, Bradley White, Geoffrey Nauffts and Billy Strong, under Jace Alexander’s deceptive direction.
Part of the evening’s subtle pleasures are the crisp set changes between the plays, virtually a case study in invisibly moving scenery and props. And for unalloyed zaniness, a wild female dance trio, Instant Girl, springs through its own choreographic zone of crafted mayhem.
The best-known playwright in the group, Jon Robin Baitz, opens the show with probably the weakest piece, “It Changes Every Year,” about moms estranged from their sons who are taken out to Mother’s Day dinner by their sons’ homosexual partners. Although fluidly directed by Darrell Larson, it leads nowhere.
Frank Pugliese’s sardonic look at a film editor and snuff movies is predictable material but remarkably enlivened by Jason Berliner’s lighting that creates the underground noir world of the play.
Several members of the 20-strong cast do multiple duty, none with more dexterity than Gina Gershon.