Five Story Walkup is a swift, accessible collection of short plays and monologues by seasoned pros. The show's program says it's about "the places we call home," but these seven works are bound together more by a general plainspoken sincerity than by theme. Web Cam Woman is a first-person narrative monologue about an "ordinary woman" who has struck a Faustian bargain with the Internet, trading her privacy for the opportunity to be her own boss as an at-home Web cam exhibitionist for pay. But playwright Laura Shaine lets the onstage action tell another story. The way the Web cam woman (Cynthia Mace) creeps along the walls of her apartment like a POW evading searchlights gives the lie to her ostensible liberation.
It seems that the anonymous men who pay to watch her are the real bosses here. Shaine lays on the feminist allegory a bit thick, but Mace makes the clash between the woman's plainness and her seamy occupation (admittedly, all there in the text) almost dazzling.
A Glorious Night is the strangest and most experimental of the evening's plays. Harry (David Randolph Irving), a jittery bachelor either preparing for or enduring a potentially hot date, speaks to the woman across the fourth wall. Nothing too radical there, except that Harry's anxious banter includes what sounds like his raw, unedited thoughts. It's as if Irving were performing an internal and verbal monologue all at once.
Whether brushing his teeth or using the toilet, Harry describes his actions in an excruciating singsong. Playwright Daniel Frederick Levin seems to be dramatizing (or reproducing from experience) the tense play-by-play that runs through a person's mind during even the most casual encounters. It's all pretty slight, but too short to be fatally so.
Quincy Long's Aux Cops is the resident hardboiled New York piece. Imagine Steven Adly Guirgis (Our Lady of 121st Street) writing a scene in an outer-borough police squad room. A high-strung candidate for detective (Thomas Eckermann) sweats through an interview with a superior (Daniel Gallant) intent on measuring the exact length and flexibility of his temper.
In this hilarious piece, Long gets some lyrical mileage out of absurd procedural jargon and Dragnet-like cadences that somehow sound just right. Gallant conducts this friendly/testy interrogation with the stony composure of Sterling Hayden droning through Stanley Kubrick's 1956 film The Killing. Eckermann sweats and balks epically, but never broadly. Aux Cops feels like the propulsive start of a larger work about jaded flatfoots in the NYPD's far-flung outposts.
Arguably, the simplest work in this showcase is bird feeder. Clay McLeod Chapman writes and performs this monologue about a secret love affair between two young boys that ended in suicide and left one of the lovers carrying their secret as if it were a heart-shaped albatross. The narrative builds slowly and sometimes feels a little obvious along the way, but it ends on a haunting note. Fadeouts don't get any more resonant.
Gallant, who directs the entire showcase, also wrote the segment Tripartite, about two brothers with a romantic interest in the same woman. The dialogue suggests a Shakespearean romantic comedy modernized by a crack TV writer.
The playful, allusive banter between the brothers, Oscar (Irving) and Ryan (Eckermann), and Renee (Kayla Lian), the castrating mystery woman who threatens to come between them, is light and airy. Perhaps too light and airy at times. Heaven knows, this play's Oedipal themes (the brothers' offstage "Mom" looms just as imposingly as Renee does) and Cane and Abel tensions don't need any further trite underscoring, but Gallant doesn't provide much dramatic tension.
Neil LaBute's monologue, Love at Twenty, takes a piercing snapshot of a 20-year-old woman discovering the treachery of adult relationships head on. She's in love with her married college professor, who has sold her a lot of absurd romantic promises that she, of course, believed wholeheartedly. As the woman, Kira Sternbach makes this naïveté believable and touchingly familiar.
In the closer, Blue Monologue, John Guare offers a slice of biography and local history, a stirring testament to his love for his parents, the borough of Queens, and the art of playwriting. Eloquent and lovely.
Five Story Walkup contains vivid sketches that won't leave an indelible mark on the soul for years to come, but they do entertain and provoke. In other words, go.