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Seventh Annual One Act Festival

Theatre 40 presents four one-act plays: "Why Norman Finklestein Doesn't Call" by Harvey Landa, directed by Stephen Tobolowsky; "Bedside Companion" by Mary Steelsmith, directed by Andre Barron; "Sonny DeRees' Life Flashes Before His Eyes" by Bill Bozzone, directed by Billy Hayes; "Rain" by Garry Williams, directed by Michael Peretzian. Produced by Andre Barron; associate producer, Jake Smith; sets, lighting, Dave Carleen; costumes, Alex Jaeger; sound design, Jeremy Grody. Artistic director, William Frankfather. Opened, reviewed Jan. 11, 1996; runs through Feb. 4. Running time, 3 hours. TX:Casts: ("Why Norman") Richard Hoyt Miller, Jennifer Parsons; ("Bedside") Teresa Gilmore, Elizabeth Meads, Jonathan Read; ("Sonny DeRees") Gavin Glennon, Christopher Michael Moore, Bea Silvern; ("Rain") Ann Hearn, Jason Horst, Gwendolyn Sanford, Stacey Stone, Stephen Tobolowsky. Two bright lights glow in this year's One Act Festival at Theatre 40; of the other two plays, one charms and the other runs far too long -- but, overall, it's an impressive score for such an event. In "Sonny," a low-class gambler (Christopher Michael Moore) is about to be murdered by chainsaw-wielding hit man Mick (Gavin Glennon), who is in a hurry to get to a Metallica concert.

Theatre 40 presents four one-act plays: “Why Norman Finklestein Doesn’t Call” by Harvey Landa, directed by Stephen Tobolowsky; “Bedside Companion” by Mary Steelsmith, directed by Andre Barron; “Sonny DeRees’ Life Flashes Before His Eyes” by Bill Bozzone, directed by Billy Hayes; “Rain” by Garry Williams, directed by Michael Peretzian. Produced by Andre Barron; associate producer, Jake Smith; sets, lighting, Dave Carleen; costumes, Alex Jaeger; sound design, Jeremy Grody. Artistic director, William Frankfather. Opened, reviewed Jan. 11, 1996; runs through Feb. 4. Running time, 3 hours. TX:Casts: (“Why Norman”) Richard Hoyt Miller, Jennifer Parsons; (“Bedside”) Teresa Gilmore, Elizabeth Meads, Jonathan Read; (“Sonny DeRees”) Gavin Glennon, Christopher Michael Moore, Bea Silvern; (“Rain”) Ann Hearn, Jason Horst, Gwendolyn Sanford, Stacey Stone, Stephen Tobolowsky. Two bright lights glow in this year’s One Act Festival at Theatre 40; of the other two plays, one charms and the other runs far too long — but, overall, it’s an impressive score for such an event. In “Sonny,” a low-class gambler (Christopher Michael Moore) is about to be murdered by chainsaw-wielding hit man Mick (Gavin Glennon), who is in a hurry to get to a Metallica concert.

Sonny’s mother, Emma (Bea Silvern), however, hears of her son’s plight and rushes in with the money Sonny owes. For Sonny to get the money, however, he must perform a few good-son deeds.

Mother and son create comedy sparks as “the boy with the saw” grows impatient. Playwright Bozzone has a wonderfully twisted view of family life that nonetheless reveals deep emotions, and director Billy Hayes paces the action impeccably.

“Rain” begins with despair and ends with magic. Staff (Stephen Tobolowsky), a Southern farmer recently paralyzed by a fall from the roof of his barn, faces financial ruin as a drought kills his crops.

His long-suffering wife, Mary (Ann Hearn), attends to their deeply retarded son (Jason Horst), while worrying if their teen daughter (Stacey Stone) might be in the back seat of some boy’s car.

Staff’s anger reveals bitterness toward a God who tortures people for eternity for not believing the right things.

When his daughter’s friend Tammy (Gwendolyn Sanford), recently engaged to a divinity student, stops by and deviously discloses that the daughter is indeed with a boy, Staff corners her to explain her religious thinking.

In other hands, the material might turn didactic, yet playwright Williams creates dialogue that demands attention, and director Michael Peretzian forms undercurrents that keep the characters on edge. The ending brings a powerful catharsis. Much credit, too, goes to the actors, who drive the play hard.

Not quite on a par with the other two, but nonetheless appealing, is “Why Norman Finklestein Doesn’t Call.” Late one night, a woman (Jennifer Parsons) hammers on the door of a man (Richard Hoyt Miller) who doesn’t know her despite her claims that they slept together three years earlier. He promised to call, she says. He hasn’t but she has been waiting.

While the story features a twist that’s expected, the actors’ interaction brings much tenderness. Tobolowsky, as director this time, focuses on the authentic, desperate needs of these people, which keeps the couple from seeming loony or sitcomish.

“Bedside Companion,” the second play of the evening, is loaded with good intention that gets stretched too far by playwright Mary Steelsmith and director Andre Barron.

Two women vie for the affection of a dying AIDS patient, Charlie (Jonathan Read). Rose (Elizabeth Meads) is a stoic good-girl, while Jojo (Teresa Gilmore) is the effervescent wild woman, a dancer just returned from a job on a cruise ship.

The play becomes most interesting when Rose’s point-of-view comes to the forefront, and if it ended when that view becomes clear, the play would be stronger.

As a whole, the evening runs too long. Without “Bedside Companion”– or a much shorter version — the One Act Festival would be a smooth-running train. Even so, the trip is worthwhile, especially the splendors of the last two stops.

Seventh Annual One Act Festival

(Theatre 40, Beverly Hills; 99 seats; $ 10)

Production: The two great finds are Bill Bozzone's dark comedy, "Sonny DeRees' Life Flashes Before His Eyes" and "Rain," a drama by Garry Williams.

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