Keeping It Together

Living Image Arts is offering a highly diverting triptych of one-act plays in its production of Committed at the Lion Theater at Theater Row. While all three shows are quite varied in both subject and tone, they all share a common trait: thoughtful, original artistry. The evening's first one-act is its most amusing, and its most successful, in examining both the fun and the fragility of relationships. Marlo Hunter smoothly directs "Men Are Pigs," Tony Zertuche's fast-paced look at who, if anyone, holds the power in a couple. Peter Marsh, Tyler Hollinger, and T.J. Mannix play these three lifelong friends named, respectively, Man 1, 2, and 3. They take turns acting out the significant moments that shaped their view of women, from adolescence through adulthood, and how these women have in turn shaped the men's self-confidence.

Are men really pigs, insensitive cads interested in only one thing? Zertuche posits that these men, and all of their kind, in fact are merely a product of the women with whom they become interested, and of the women's treatment of them.

The action becomes increasingly involving—and more realistic—with Mannix's scenes, which represent the men's college years. His burgeoning relationship with his co-worker (Elizabeth Schmidt) is far more deeply realized than one might expect from such a comical scene. Each of them tests the waters, trying out jokes and flirting awkwardly, in the way couples meet in college.

All three actors are comfortable with the rapid-fire scene and character switches, and Schmidt proves herself to be a versatile actress, portraying all of the "girlfriends" the three men dated. She plays them distinctly and with a comic edge. Hunter keeps the action moving throughout the piece (punctuated by excellent 1980s and 1990s song choices and set designer Scott Needham's age-appropriate decorations). All three actors take turns contributing their own anecdotes, like a relay where a baton is passed back and forth and never dropped.

Hollinger reappears in a very different role in William K. Powers's more stilted "Off the Cuff." No longer Man 2, Hollinger now portrays Guy, according to the program (which is progress, of a sort, as far as ambiguous character titles go). Guy is an attractive handyman with a secret who finds himself in the household of a very odd family. All of its members seem to have an alcohol problem, so they have created a rule stating that only one member may get drunk at a time, and whoever does so must wear a pair of handcuffs.

Director Holli Harms cannot quite guide this mayhem to liftoff, despite some irreverent performances from the committed cast members. Maria Gabriele and Richard Kent Green, as Bebe and Arthur, the matriarch and patriarch of this crazy clan, demonstrate excellent comic timing with their nonsensical banter. Brandon Walker as the son, Dookie, also has some wonderfully off-kilter moments, but Mia Aden's work as Babs, the daughter, feels a little less focused.

In fact, so does all of "Cuff." Powers strives a little too hard to enter the oddly absurdist world created by such playwrights as David Lindsay-Abaire, and many of his prescribed bits of business for his characters—drinking coffee, switching use of handcuffs, Babs's random engagement to Guy—become tired. Additionally, I am not sure how well this loopy plot ties into the show's commitment theme.

Obert Askins's "Boxes," the final piece, is a strong dramatic work, but as directed by Lindsay Goss, it's a little too remote. It addresses the idea of commitment in a cleaner fashion than "Cuff" does, but the relationships are strictly familial ones rather than romantic in nature. Aaron (Matthew Sincell) and Cassandra (Julie Fitzpatrick) are brother and sister, reunited following the violent death of their father. He devoted his life to working with boxes full of leftover ship cargo, trying to determine if they contained riches or explosives. But in seeking a potentially better life, he died.

Aaron, a malcontent, thinks that his father's death was for the best. Though both performers' Irish accents wane at times, Sincell makes his character's despondence vividly clear. As Cassandra, Fitzpatrick embodies several stages of grief at once, and as the character reasons, even bargains, with her brother to move on, her pain is palpable.

Needham's impressive set design transports his audience to the beachhead where the action takes place, but Goss might have been wise to let the visuals speak for the whole play; Askins's dialogue, about being boxed into a miserable life, grows tired and is something of a down note on which to end a production that began with such sparks.

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