Food plays an important role in both of John Patrick Shanley’s new one-act plays, so it is not out of line to say that the evening offers up a strange combination of several subtle and intriguing Eastern spices embedded in some awfully ripe cheese. Delicious moments are overwhelmed before they can be savored and we leave the table wanting less, not more.
The first, shorter, and less clever of the two pieces is “Missing Marisa,” in which two men who imagine themselves to be witty exchange verbal jabs over the meaning of friendship, love and maturity. For the most part they sound like a couple of regular guys who have sat through “Pulp Fiction” a dozen times too often, and have forgotten how to speak without attempting to make every sentence come out as street poetry. Since it is too dull to be meant as a parody of that writing style, one grows fearful at the thought of what playwrights less accomplished than Shanley are out there concocting in the backwash of the Tarantino tidal wave.
This is not to say that there isn’t potential for real tension in this tale of two men who have loved and lost the same woman, especially since the first lover may have won her back from the second. But author and director Shanley undercuts that possibility by injecting absurdist touches, such as having one of the characters pull a huge knife and fork out of his sleeves, a la Harpo Marx, in order to eat a tiny piece of chicken.
The old saying that a lawyer who handles his own case has a fool for a client is mirrored in the decision of a playwright to direct his own script. Shanley’s staging is straightforward enough, but another set of eyes and ears might have persuaded the author of the need to take an ax to the second of the evening’s works, “Kissing Christine,” the story of a husband in midlife crisis, out on a spur-of-the-moment date with a woman he has met at a lecture on “meaningful chance.”
As they exchange bios, the woman’s story of an accident that changed her life for better and worse opens the play up like the lotus in the hand of the Buddha whose image dominates the back wall of the Thai restaurant where the couple is dining. Slowly, a subtext on the nature of reality and illusion starts to emerge and the two plays connect through the theme of genies and wishes. But Shanley, assuming his audience has the patience of Buddha, lets the piece run on and the meaning slip away.
Doing their best to sustain our interest are Jake Weber as the husband and Laura Hughes as the Christine who gets kissed. Weber, who also appears in the first play, performs with a laid-back confidence, never doubting for a moment that the audience will lean forward to catch every word of his low-key delivery. Hughes is convincing as a woman who has seen the light though she still lives in shadow.
Daniel Oreskes, the other fellow in “Missing Marisa,” is a pleasure to listen to in his role of a New Yawk kinda guyish guy. And Reiko Aylesworth shows how a pretty girl can clown around without losing her dignity. Brad Stokes contributed the impressive Buddha that watches over the actors, and David Van Tieghem provides music and other sounds to punctuate the plays at appropriate moments.