Playwright John Patrick Bray, whose one-act On Top, one of six short plays that comprise Rising Sun’s current production, must have been excited when he picked up last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. The cover story, a feature on sex columnist and activist Dan Savage, championed the notion that a healthy marriage may require an occasional infidelity. On Top, among the production’s strongest offerings, serves as a near perfect illustration of that argument. As the cuckolded husband, Joe Beaudin strikes a delicate balance of depressed neurosis and sweet optimism. We see why his wife would seek pleasure elsewhere, and at the same time, we understand why she loves him. The other five plays of the evening follow a similar structure to On Top – one character convinces another to accept the unthinkable – but with more outlandish scenarios than a couple discussing betrayal in a grocery store. The fantastic situations, however, seldom yield fantastic results. In The Craving, David L. William’s play which inspires the evening’s title, a couple’s sexy role play reveals still kinkier desires. While EJ Assi infuses his performance with naturalism both in and out of his character’s role-play, Ashley Kyle Miller, as the fetishistic girlfriend, reveals her character’s secret fantasy with the same sense of playacting that she maintains during the much tamer, make believe scenario. Without that necessary shift, what could be a glib examination of desire and consent becomes, instead, a one-note joke.
Some of All Parts, by Mrinalini Kamath, more playfully examines the disjuncture between ego and id, with funnier results. The script’s inventive conceit is carried off with admirable dedication by Jerrod Luke, EJ Assi, and Lindsay Beecher, whose sense of decorum doesn’t quite match her spandexy, reptile print dress, however desirous the character is of sex.
Costuming choices in Len Cuthbert’s Delilah are similarly distracting. Dressed in bright pink pants, an aqua top, and pink hoop earrings, with her hair in a high ponytail and skinny silver bracelets clinking on her wrists, Andrea Cordaro’s outfit screams mall princess to an extent that belies the character’s obsession with quirky chicken jokes. As her dying-of-cancer-best-friend, Tedra Millan contrasts her scene partner’s glitz in a loose, fuzzy brown sweater. Although the script is no subtler than the costume choices, with teenage girls debating the merits of ceasing chemotherapy treatments, if published, Delilah could have a healthy life in high school drama competitions.
Still darker twists on the tensions between desire and death are Jae Kramisen’s Sit Still, a detective drama about a domestic violence victim, and Greg Abbott’s Vultures, a history-based drama that riffs on the emotional baggage of photojournalists. The former juxtaposes scenes of a horrific marriage and a detective office interview following the husband’s disappearance, but the structure grows repetitive and the closing revelation fails to justify the scene's suspense, which builds unevenly in any case. The latter play, which closes the evening, would also be strengthened by some textual trimming, however with themes of starvation and guilt, it provides an appropriate, shadowy bookend to an evening of plays about consumption and want.
The counterweight provided by Vultures is perhaps especially helpful given the fact that each play has a different director, which prevents the evening from cohering as nicely as it otherwise might. That provides a lot of opportunity for members of Rising Sun’s enormous ensemble, as well as for a plethora of guest artists, but the end result feels less like a fully formed evening of theater than it does a showcase of scripts, whose staging could use more time in development.