Count of Three

Anyone for a Threesome? asks the title of a theatrical evening currently onstage at the Red Room on East 4th Street. A collection of three short plays written and directed by three young artists, self-described “20-somethings with big dreams and lots of energy,” the program runs Monday evenings from now until Christmas. The first play of the evening, I am Tricky Nicky, written by Adam Samtur and directed by P. Case Aiken III, opens to a woman seated alone at a café table. Dressed in a pink floral skirt paired with brightly striped knee socks, she all but screams crazy. And indeed, moments later her psychologist enters. If the plot is a bit predictable – this is a play that draws on the tradition of doctors who need their patients more than the other way around – perhaps that’s because this is a patient, the script implies, who can predict the future. Where Mindy Matijasevic lends a grounded confidence to Nicky’s elliptical stream of consciousness, Susan Stout is nervous and flighty as her articulate counselor. They make a good match for one another.

The doctor’s use of her tape recorder to make notes about the session allows us to see layers of depth within a character trying hard to maintain a cool front, though at times her use of the machine more closely resembles Zach Morris asides than a professional tool, or even a compellingly dramatic one. “I'm going to press on, I have to,” she tells her tape recorder; why not just show us her doing so? Cutting redundancies would help the pace of the scene tremendously, propelling it more directly toward its inexorably violent conclusion.

All the plays address themes of violence and destruction, especially Aiken’s Sans Deus. A whimsical look at mechanized violence influenced by B horror films, the play juxtaposes the story of a man who lost his hand, and his attempts to recreate the appendage, with occasional appearances by a mad scientist, and a dialogue between two young men casually plotting murder with a complicated, atmosphere controlling machine. Under the smooth direction of Matthew Kagen, the quirky story bounces along as the men experience the ecstasy of their labors’ fruition. A less weighty sense of import might help emphasize the charming whimsy central to the story, yet of the three plays this one has the both the most unfamiliar content and the best sense of its performative style. It makes an amusing end to the evening.

The centerpiece of the program, Kagen’s Let Them Eat Cake, directed by Samtur, features two young women in pastel skirts and demi cup bras earnestly debating the merits of studying abroad versus staying on campus. That scene follows separate opening bits in which each of them engages in well-choreographed sex sequences: angry, fully-clothed quickies with lots girlish squealing. Curiously, only after sex do they remove their blouses, then stay that way for the duration of the play; their male partner stays dressed in his shirt, khakis and a plethora of paper party hats.

Light shifts, designed by Matt Brogan, indicate that the sex scenes occur in fantasy, or as program notes suggest, ask audiences to consider the possibility that they might occur in fantasy, but Samtur’s directorial skills are not sharp enough to cogently convey the idea of a possible reality. And if the sex is a fantasy but mundane reminiscing about college is not, why on earth would the girls choose to not wear clothing? More to the point, if the whole play is a fantasy, whose fantasy is it? And how does that impact the style of the play? Greater attention to that question might have strengthened the production.

At best, the toplessness is a distracting choice made by eager young men who confuse unmotivated undress with edgy, sophisticated theater. At worst, it's cheaply exploitative. At no point, however, is it particularly sexy. Given that Kagen's script purports to be smartly engaged with collegiate sexual politics, he should know better than to resort to meaningless objectification. References to antiquity and use of occasional French words are not enough to render the characters bright or the play classy.

The old show biz pearl of wisdom advises that when an act is weak, add a puppy. But even the cutest pups can’t compensate for an off-key number, and topless young women don't hide an ambling, self-important script. All of the plays would benefit from a lighter sense of themselves. Still, that these young artists are serious enough about their work to mount it onstage at the Red Room is an admirable accomplishment. With continued dedication to both producing and their artistic development, it will be interesting to see what directions they go in next.

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