Sometimes a book of short stories is a welcome diversion from the usual industrial-strength novels. Just as an evening of short one-acts can provide a satisfying evening at the theater. And that’s just what playwright Helena Weltman and producer/director Pavel Cerny have brought to the stage of the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks.
The six vignettes, collectively titled “Love, Sex, and Violence Too” is subtitled “Or False Advertising,” since there is mostly yearning for love, rather than love itself, and no sex or violence at all.
Although the first act gives sex a good college try as a young man (Allen Yates) brings home a waitress (Olivia Peri) from a nearby café. He slips into a gaudy red dressing gown and plies her with wine in a paper cup. But she is looking for a “meaningful relationship,” while he is just looking to get laid.
In the next scene a married couple (Lisa-Beth Harris and Joshua Grenrock) are having a late-night drink after a triumphant party celebrating the publication of her book on baking. He is heaping her with platitudes, which only annoys her, and very soon their marriage is falling apart right before your eyes. (Grenrock was the “brilliantly poignant” lead clown — the man with an air of desperation and a rubber face — in “Circus Welt,” which director Cerny adapted from Leonid Andreyev’s “He Who Gets Slapped,” presented earlier this year. Grenrock has been nominated for a 2010 Ovation Award for that role.)
Adrian Lee Borden and Desi Javon are strangers marooned in a stalled elevator in “Boring,” the third vignette. In contrast with the recent play “Elevator,” in which seven people are stranded in a large elevator, a situation that doesn’t seem at all frightening or claustrophobic, this elevator in “Boring” encloses the two actors in a very small square with little room to move around, and so their getting-to-know-you conversation is close-up, personal, and bizarre.
“Thirteen Months, Two Weeks” is how long Lacey Rae has been wasting the time of her psychiatrist, Robbin Ormond. She lies, contradicts herself, and needles the doctor with confrontational personal questions, much to the psychiatrist’s consternation. In desperation, the psychiatrist protests, “You hear my interest as a judgment …”
In the next scene Robbin Ormond plays the psychiatrist again, this time alone on stage talking to her own psychiatrist. This vignette is the best of the lot, beautifully written and gloriously acted, as Ormond expresses her frustration and anger with her clients and deals with — and avoids — her own personal dramas. “I can’t take life any more, it’s too painful,” she says.
And finally, ending on a lighter note, Lacey Rae meets a dancer (Eddy Hawks) in a hamburger joint and with headwaiter Ward Edmondson, the three “tap dance to survive,” as Eddy puts it.
While the six vignettes differ in tone and intensity, they make for an engaging mix — even though some scenes are considerably better than others (and sometimes make more sense). For the most part, the overarching themes are loneliness, disappointment, and estrangement, but surprisingly, there is a good deal of humor in the midst of all the pathos. And director Cerny has done a good job of bringing out the best in his actors. Making it a very pleasant outing for a Sunday afternoon.
“Love, Sex and Violence Too” will be performed every Sunday at 2 p.m. through Oct. 17 at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., in Sherman Oaks. Call 866-811-4111 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.