First of all, a disclaimer. Seattle’s ACT Theatre is, indeed, producing a show of three one-act plays. Regrettably, Handsome Half and I did not stay for the third play. Not because we didn’t want to see Sam Shepard’s The Unseen Hand. Rather, we really needed to be up early the next day and the one-hour play was the second half of the night and wouldn’t let out until much too late for us.
The production runs until August 17, so we might be able to catch all three plays.
That left us to view the first two but those weren’t lightweights either. The first was Patter for the Floating Lady, by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin). The second, Riverside Drive, was by Woody Allen (yes, THAT Woody Allen). Each was fascinating in its own quirky way.
Steve Martin, of course, is best known as a comedian and actor, but he’s also shown surprising ability as a playwright. His full-length play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, generated positive notices and secured quite a respectable run in New York. I wasn’t too surprised, then, when his name appeared on the bill.
This play, Patter for the Floating Lady, also reflects Martin’s background in sleight-of-hand and magic. That was his first training in performance, and this play is a bit of an homage to that. But it’s also a wry look at male/female relationships. In it, a Magician (David Foubert) decides to do a favor for his assistant (Jessica Skerrit). Which backfires, in a way reminiscent of the recent Venus in Furs. The performances are sharp, smart, and funny, and the whole play is over almost before one realizes, leaving you satisfied.
Woody Allen’s Riverside Drive is longer and more complex–almost too long. It’s an alternatingly chilling/funny tale of a writer, waiting to break up with his mistress, who meets a whacked-out street person who knows more about him than anyone should. Allen’s genius is his ability to write sharp, funny dialog with an edge. He flips one-liners the way Steve Martin flips cards, and he also flips comedy with drama in a way that only Neil Simon can match. There’s only one shortcoming in the story, but it’s a major one: without giving anything away, all I’ll reveal is the “surprise ending” of the story is a plot twist which Allen has used at least twice, in Bullets Over Broadway and Match Point. So there’s nothing really new here.
These play requires fast-paced directing, and R. Hamilton Wright, who directed all three, keeps the pace moving. The Allen play, especially, uses quick, snappy timing, and Wright gets the most out of actors (Chris Emsweiler, Jessica Skerrit and Eric Ray Anderson) who are certainly up to the task. Skerrit moves easily from enigmatic woman in Patter to scorned woman in Riverside, but in the latter she sounded too much like she did as Audrey in the recent Little Shop of Horrors.
In one-acts, especially, sets need to come down and go back up fast. Scenic desginer Martin Christoffel designed (at least) two functional, minimalist sets representing just enough to bring the audience into the scene. For Patter, the need was for effective lighting and costumes as well, and here, the highly skilled Rick Paulsen (lighting) and Melanie Burgess (costumes) delivered effectively.
Summer keeps me busy, but I certainly hope to be able to return to see Shepard’s Unseen Hand. But even the first two deserve to be seen.