None of the three one-act plays in Audax Theater Group's The Beginning of the And are related. The settings and stories are very different, and the themes in each one—the unpredictability of life, the basic human need for companionship—are only loosely connected. Yet the collection feels very cohesive. Director Brian Ziv seems to have a consistent vision for each piece and how they all fit together. "APPS" takes place in the bar of a resort hotel, as Henry (Daniel Talbott) waits for Jody (Alie Carey) before their romantic honeymoon dinner. He's joined by two bar regulars: Meyers (Scott Sortman) and an incognito Ringo Starr, assuming the name of Mr. Burns (Davis Hall). An oddity in Hawaiian shirt and cowboy boots, Meyers believes himself to be a connoisseur of the "app." Appetizers represent freedom, while meals—and commitment—keep you stuck.
Meyers repeatedly suggests that Henry should order an appetizer while he waits. Henry is skeptical, but some cajoling from the men, and an escalating newlywed spat with Jody, make a life filled with shrimp cocktail and guacamole dip seem more appealing. "APPS" is a very funny short piece, with a tiny emotional tug at the end. Hall plays the former Beatle with a convincing mix of flash and nonchalance. As Meyers, Sortman is both loopy and charismatic: the man makes you think seriously about your pre-entrée ordering. Talbott and Carey are wide-eyed and fresh-faced foils to the craggy older men, and it's fun watching their wedded bliss crumple around the edges.
"ORANGE", the second piece, is the surname of John Orange. Actually, he has quite a few names, all representing his family's pedigree. John (Will Brunson) and his equally blue-blooded mother (Arleigh Richards) live together and run an antique shop out of their garage. It is a quiet arrangement for them, and certainly a lonely one for John, who becomes instantly smitten with Julia (Carey), a lost out-of-towner traveling with her fiancé (Kevin Perri).
Julia, however, becomes smitten with the store's showpiece, an original Chippendale chair. John hopes Julia will stay, Mom hopes Julia will go, and Julia hopes the chair might someday be hers. Awkwardly social at best, John decides to give her the chair. It's a lovely gesture, and one Julia can't begin to understand, though she happily takes the chair anyway.
Carey and Perri are sweet and oblivious without being obnoxious. As the couple drives away with "the Chippy," John is the only one who didn't get what he wanted. Will Brunson's portrayal of Orange—as a dapper yet pathetic man—makes him the kind of guy you'd want to root for, even though you know he doesn't have a chance in the world.
In "OST," we meet Mr. Ost (Hall) and his wife, Lida (Richards). The Osts are vacationing at the Angel's Arms Inn, run by Monsieur (John Kaisner) and his extremely twitchy wife Fi (Romany Reagan). Both couples have their own agendas, and the tension between them builds and eventually bursts. This segment had the quirkiest humor and featured terrific performances by all four actors, including another great turn from both Hall and Richards.
However, the piece also seemed to be the odd man out in the trio. Its clever yet occasionally confusing use of "Ost" to stand for "ostentatious" and "Fi" as "fie" was never directly addressed; I wanted to be let in on the joke more. Still, "OST" felt creative and ambitious and reminded me a little of Beckett or some of the shorter works of Tom Stoppard.
Director Ziv made effective use of the space, which was good because there wasn't much space to use (the 78th Street Theater Lab is tiny). The basic set consisted of enough furniture to take us from scene to scene without seeming too generic or getting too fussy. The most important piece of scenery was the large projection screen housed in the center of the rear wall. A short video introduced each sketch by identifying the characters with captions and placing them in telling situations: it was easy to infer that the couple in the first one-act were newlyweds. The videos added a layer of context that would otherwise be missing.
The Beginning of the And was the Audax Theater Group's inaugural production in 2001. Five years later, the group appears to be thriving, as this revival made for a thoughtful, entertaining diversion. The three one-acts were funny with a touch of bittersweet, and full of endearing characters.