Tony-nominated helmer Milton Katselas (Broadway’s “Butterflies Are Free”) has scripted four intense but thematically undernourished one-acts that delve into the emotional intricacies of male/female relationships, ostensibly set in four different locations on the same day. While a weapon is inevitably brandished in each of the works (three pistols and a knife), these cathartic machinations of boys and girls together never develop beyond the meandering expositions of various angst-filled romantic schisms. What they do offer is intriguing performance outlets for an attractive 13-member ensemble. Not all the performances hit their mark, but the ones that do are quite memorable.
Opener “The Rite of Spring” is the weakest of the four works. It spotlights the professional and romantic tribulations of supposed world class Manhattan-based conductor-pianist Colin (Allen Barton). While in the throes of practicing the monumentally virtuoso Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto, which he is scheduled to perform in four days at Carnegie Hall, Colin finds himself in a creative stupor. It’s compounded by the competing presence of two of his bedmates, playfully down-to-earth Southerner Cassie (Marianna Elliott) and sultry, dark-eyed Kate (Julia Nickson).
Actor-concert pianist Barton certainly knows his way around the keyboards and manages to exude effective Hugh Grant-like debonair comic timing as Colin attempts to extricate himself from his predicament, which includes a groveling faceoff with pistol-packing Kate. But Elliott and Nickson are hamstrung by two woefully underdeveloped characters that have no reason for being, other than to give Colin a hard time.
The performances rise quite a few notches in the two-character “Gibran,” a searing pas de deux between determined Palestinian suicide bomber Nidal (Shaun Duke) and his former fiancee Anna (Tania Gonzalez), an American-born Jew now working for the Israeli government. Duke and Gonzalez project a haunting veracity as the tragic, star-crossed lovers who cannot bridge a cultural gulf thousands of years in the making. Though Katselas’ script runs out of ideas midway through the playlet, the helmer expertly guides Duke and Gonzalez through an ever-building fusion of sexual passion and social idealism that builds to a tangible ferocity by play’s end. Alternating as Nidal and Anna are Isa Totah and Hilit Pace, respectively.
Set in a posh Beverly Hills hotel suite, “Harem” (co-scripted by Michael Shurtleff) wastes a wonderfully droll outing by Lee Garlington as Betty, the aide de camp of a billionaire (not present) who has put Betty in charge of a gathering of his five mistresses (played by Ashley Schoff, Susan Duerden, Rae Ritke, Julie Cobb and Tracey Costello). Very little happens other than a rehashing of each lady’s self-serving claim on the man and an incomprehensibly awkward bit of business with a pistol. The scene’s lackluster ending is as unsatisfying as the labored interactions of these women, who don’t appear to believe a word they are saying.
The concluding work, “Goya,” set in a low-scale Los Angeles apartment, is worth the price of admission, if only to witness the vibrantly earthy performance of Justina Machado (Vanessa Diaz on “Six Feet Under”) as the ragingly independent girlfriend of an emotionally mercurial artist, performed with effective off-balance quirkiness by Christian Svensson. The pair burrow into and through each other as Svensson’s artist is demanding a commitment that Machado’s girlfriend resists with all her mind and body. The highlight of the scene is Machado’s hilariously revealing performance of Rodgers and Hart classic “The Lady Is a Tramp.” Alternating with Machado is Lana Parilla.