Three unique American voices are featured in ACT’s evening of one-acts. To be sure Steve Martin, Woody Allen and Sam Shepard are as different from one another as can be; however, this seemingly random sampling of modern theater smoothly flows together, providing a lively summer night.
The three disparate pieces do link together in an overarching motif; for they all somehow pit a probing intellect against the forces of our nation’s crazy quilt social and political chaotic insanity.
Steve Martin’s “Patter for the Floating Lady” opens the evening and is the lightest of the three. David Foubert who recently did such outstanding work in Seattle Shakespeare’s Richard II, is a lovesick magician making one futile attempt to win the heart of Agnes (Jessica Skerritt). His plan is to levitate her during his magic act; this ought to impress her! Of course, things don’t work out as planned and Agnes is capable of a few tricks of her own. Skerritt’s monologue, in which her character takes a cold hard look at her relationship with the self-satisfied magician, is a doozy!
For Woody Allen fans, it might be helpful to categorize his one-act “Riverside Drive” as most closely reflecting his films “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Match Point.” As in those two movies, the play explores how a character in the throes of unbridled, romantic passion can soon paint himself (it always seems to be a “he”) into horrifying and crippling corners. Chris Ensweiler is Jim, an angst-ridden writer, terrified of the predicament in which he finds himself. Eric Ray Anderson plays Fred, the “id” in this conflict. Fred is a college dropout who communicates with rays bouncing off the tops of New York City skyscrapers; he is convinced that Jim has stolen his idea for a movie and wants in on the royalties. New conflicts arise when Jessica Skerrit appears as Barbara, the love/lust object of the piece. This 2003 play swiftly and entertainingly moves toward its inevitable dénouement. At its completion, I really felt as if I had just seen a new Woody Allen movie.
Sam Shepard’s “The Unseen Hand” closes the evening. First produced in 1969, it is the oldest yet most experimental of the trio. It is definitely not for everyone; a group behind me walked out mid-show, but the absurd, expressionist exploration of free will versus the powers that be offered a lot of high-energy theatrics. Here is Anderson, who was wonderful in both his roles this evening, now playing the 120-year-old Blue Morphan, living out his last lonely days in an abandoned Chevy somewhere outside of Azusa, California. That’s Azusa as in “Everything from A to Z in the USA”. Shepard seems to take his cue from this town’s motto and fills the show with an anguished alien (Hana Lass), back-from–the-dead Western gunslingers, space attacks, a neurotic high school yell leader (Quinn Armstrong), tons of flying ping pong balls and potions of youth elixirs. Though the piece reflects the overwhelming anxiety our nation suffered under in the late sixties, young Shepard’s play, with its unbridled energy, still works quite well in 2014.
R. Hamilton Wright directed ACT’s collection of Martin, Allen and Shepard. The plays run through August 17 at 700 Union Street, downtown Seattle. Ticket office: 206-292-7660. More information at the ACT website: www.acttheatre.org.