In an evening of two one-acts, playwright Frank H. Strausser explores the oh-so-complicated territory of the female psyche. Directors Randy Brenner (“The Powder Room”) and Rob Brownstein (“Valentine Triage”) achieve little success with these works that are long on verbiage but short on concept. Academy Award-nominated Sally Kirkland (“Anna”) graces both plays, dominating the first while appearing totally uncomfortable in the second.
“The Powder Room,” featuring a ferociously focused performance by Kirkland, spotlights a college extension course where Kirkland’s Instructor leads a group of soul-seeking women through a journey of self-discovery. Kirkland’s instructor is a manic crackpot, so damaged by an abusive past that she is often frantically out of control in her need to impose her “help” on the other women. Those who have signed up for her class, which deals primarily with “Andro-centrism” (the notion that the world is shaped and run by men), are clearly a troubled lot.
Into this milieu of wounded souls arrives the Male (Robert Casey), an affable, uncomplicated, self-dubbed “good guy” who’s just looking for some insight into women in order to flesh out the female protagonist in his novel. Not unlike a stone hurled into a seemingly smooth pond, his presence creates a ripple-like effect of angst. He’s unwilling to leave, despite some pretty harsh badgering from both the Instructor and some of the other women.
While this 70-minute stage work is often diverting, it is hindered by a murky concept and Brenner’s unbalanced staging. Throughout the evening, the audience is reminded that all of humanity is on a journey. Unfortunately, this particular journey goes nowhere. The performances, however, range from workmanlike to inspired, with a special nod to Alexandria Sage’s Carlsbad, who gives new meaning to the term “mousy.”
“Valentine Triage,” which runs only 30 minutes, traverses a moral labyrinth, raising questions that could only occur in an already amoral septic culture. A pair of two-dimensional characters, former lovers He (Marcus Graham) and She (Cameocara Martine), wrestle with the potential consequences of a condom that tears during an unexpected passionate encounter on Valentine’s evening. He is adamant that she take the morning-after pill. She wants no part of it, but is finally swayed by his ever-so-transparent desire to rekindle their relationship. Three weeks later she shows up at his apartment, eager to give her old flame just enough of a scare to reveal his true colors.
Hampered by a thin script and Brownstein’s lackluster staging, Martine never achieves any level of comfort with her lines. Graham fares better, but seldom varies in his delivery. Kirkland’s brief appearance as an emergency room nurse is as implausible as it is under-rehearsed.
Larry Sousa’s boiler room-like set design suits neither play.