A capable quartet of one-acts at Brick

Posted: March 20, 2002

A common approach in reviewing unrelated works of theater, such as the four new one-acts by area playwrights paired into two programs by Brick Playhouse, is to anoint one as the "best" and start by discussing it. However, because three of the four plays that Brick is billing as its "First Annual One-Act Festival" are well-written, accomplished pieces, it's both difficult and unfair to label any as superior.

So let's start with the play that is the most unusual in form and subject and the best-acted: Will Work for Food by Mark Cofta.

It is narrated by Addy, a young woman who tells about her abandonment by her husband and her move to New York to strike out on her own. She gets a job with the smart, high-toned gallery owner Helene and meets the mysterious Portia.

The emotionally wounded Addy seems to be on the road to success and acceptance until she gets it into her head that Portia is not only the sophisticated woman she sees at work but also a homeless woman she sees begging on the street. She becomes obsessed with tracking down the homeless woman and unmasking her.

The reasons for and consequences of Addy's strange fixation are ultimately vague and unconvincing, yet the play has a strong dramatic thrust, and its well-drawn characters are strongly portrayed by Jennifer Summerfield, whose Addy is especially good, Cyndi Janzen (Helene), and Stacy Gallese (Portia).

Food runs with A Piece of Rope by Michael Ladenson. A play about business ethics, small-business survival, and the relationship between father and son, it takes on more than a 45-minute piece can handle. The viewer leaves unsatisfied by the resolutions, wondering why the business owner at the center of the play, who seems so out of touch with things at the outset, should suddenly become so wise at the end.

Ladenson, however, writes sharp dialogue, his characters and situations hold interest, and Doug Wild's portrayal of an unprincipled salesman adds color. Because an actor left the cast at the last moment, Ladenson was forced to take the lead role, and he must be as aware as anyone watching that it needs a stronger performer.

Anchoring the other program is Wind by Michael Friel. Set in a small-town police station at the Jersey Shore, it is a moody, nicely structured rumination on middle-aged male angst in which the winter wind blowing through the town's vacant streets is symbolic of the this-can't-be-all-there-is feelings that afflict three of its characters.

One is a man who has murdered his wife and confesses. While the distasteful brutality of the slaying is at odds with the humanity of the play, the states of mind Friel explores for the murderer, the police chief (a nice turn by Jerry Puma), and a defense attorney will seem truthful to men of a certain age.

In Lesbos in the Kitchen, Cat Hasson West brings together poet Sylvia Plath; her husband, poet Ted Hughes; and the woman for whom Hughes left Plath. West's dialogue is awkward, and she has nothing original to say about Plath or Hughes or their endlessly examined relationship.

Contact Douglas J. Keating at 215-854-5609 or dkeating@phillynews.com.

First Annual One-Act Festival

Program A: A Piece of Rope, written and directed by Michael Ladenson; Will Work for Food by Mark Cofta, directed by Anne George. Program B: Lesbos in the Kitchen by Cat Hasson West, directed by Aileen McCulloch; Wind by Michael Friel, directed by Mark Cofta. Lighting by Kevin Cassel.

The cast: Michael Ladenson, Rob Hargraves, Doug Wild, Jennifer Summerfield, Cyndi Janzen, Stacy Gallese, Rose Evans, Jackie Kay Knox, Doug Durlacher, Scott Wolfson, Marybeth Gorman, Jerry Puma, David Hutchman, Todd Holtsberry.

Playing at: Brick Playhouse, 623 South St. Programs alternate Thursday through Sunday through March 31. Tickets are $15; $25 for both. Information: 215-592-1183

or www.thebrickplayhouse.org.

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