Friday, April 4, 2008

Playwrights enter Kentucky derby 'Becky,' 'City' shine as Humana fest blossoms

by Godon Cox

A blind date gone awry and a town full of evangelical Christians had auds buzzing in Kentucky.

Gina Gionfriddo's "Becky Shaw" and the Civilians' "This Beautiful City" emerged as the productions to watch at the Humana Fest of New American Plays, the annual event at Actors Theater of Louisville that draws legiters from around the country to check out the lineup.

"Becky," which revolves around an attempt to matchmake a merciless money manager and the needy young woman of the title, and "Beautiful City," a docu-play about Colorado Springs, were two of a six-play slate that, unlike the topically minded 2007 fest, skewed heavily toward family drama. Both shows are already headed toward Gotham berths, while others in the lineup are mapping out future lives with varying degrees of certainty.

Fest marks the second time Gionfriddo has been one of Humana's hot properties, following the buzzed-about 2004 preem of her play "After Ashley" (which landed in a starry production at the Vineyard the following year).

In "Becky Shaw," that blind date wreaks havoc in the lives of both the potential couple and the married couple who set them up. The play proves a big, wittily articulate show whose sprawling thematic reach encompasses everything from class and race to the emotional cost of compassion.

Both seriously ambitious and smoothly entertaining, Gionfriddo's sharp and funny script is peopled with full-bodied characters the thesps at Humana palpably enjoyed tackling. David Wilson Barnes, achieving a nuanced brand of ruthlessness as finance guy Max, nabbed the most attention in Peter DuBois' well-acted production.

As the show moves compellingly along, it becomes clear Gionfriddo isn't sure precisely which story she's telling, a flaw that renders the play's final scene unsatisfying. But even if that problem isn't solved in the future by judicious honing, "Becky Shaw" remains a hearty piece of theater. So it's no surprise that producers, both of the commercial and nonprofit variety, are said to be already circling, with a stint in Gotham seemingly assured.

The New York appearance of "This Beautiful City," the latest reality-based offering from the Civilians, is already set: The show will play the Vineyard in early 2009 after a run at Center Theater Group in L.A. Downtown troupe the Civilians already has an Off Broadway following -- their show "Gone Missing" recently ended a commercial run, while another, "Paris Commune," just began perfs at the Public.

After Humana, "Beautiful City" moves to D.C.'s Studio Theater, which co-produced.

With text culled from interviews (shaped into a script by helmer Steve Cosson and Jim Lewis) and mock-Christian rock songs by Michael Friedman, "Beautiful City" looks at the devout populace of Colorado Springs and how they coped with the 2006 scandal involving New Life Church founder Ted Haggard, who exited his post after former hustler Mike Jones charged him with a longstanding sex-and-drugs relationship.

Clocking in at 2½ hours, the production could use some trimming and focusing. But the material is fascinating and the excellent cast, many of whom conducted the original interviews, effortlessly transforms into a persuasive array of Colorado Springs inhabitants.

Best title of the fest goes to "Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom," Jennifer Haley's tale of a survival horror vidgame that gradually takes over the lives of the families in a well-off subdivision. Playing like a nifty episode of "The Twilight Zone," the story builds to an affectingly gruesome finale, and director Kip Fagan creates a clever stage language for the moments when two realities, virtual and actual, overlap.

With its small-scale tech demands and four-person ensemble, "Neighborhood" seems a likely candidate for legit troupes hoping to benefit from the play's youthful, tech-savvy appeal.

Also tapping Humana's familial drama vein were Lee Blessing's "Great Falls" and Carly Mensch's "All Hail Hurricane Gordo."

"Great Falls," about a man's attempts to connect with his teen stepdaughter during a road trip, has its irritating fillips -- the two-hander's characters are named Monkey Man and Bitch -- but is enough of a traditional character-driven drama that the show could easily get some regional play. No future productions have been set, although another Blessing play, "Body of Water," will bow Off Broadway at Primary Stages in September.

Many legiters were turned off by "Gordo," a manic depiction of a mentally unstable young man and the uptight brother who cares for him. But Mensch, a young scribe still in Juilliard's graduate playwriting program, has some momentum going: Her play "Len, Asleep in Vinyl" gets a run at Second Stage Uptown this summer.

Of all the Humana shows, Marc Bamuthi Joseph's "the break/s" has its future most clearly laid out for it. Dynamically performed by Joseph, the legit-dance-spoken word piece about hip-hop, racial identity and a breakup has more than a year of arthouse appearances ahead of it, including stints at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis this month, the Spoleto Fest in May and the Kennedy Center and Gotham's Skirball Center in September.


This Beautiful City

by Paul Harris

A Studio Theater presentation, in association with Actors Theater of Louisville and the Civilians, of a musical in two acts by Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Directed by Cosson. Musical staging, Chase Brock.

With: Emily Ackerman, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Aysan Celik, Matthew Dellapina, Brad Heberlee, Stephen Plunkett.

The latest docu-theater project to emerge from the inventive minds of the Off Broadway company the Civilians is a treatment of the evangelical Christian movement headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. Following initial exposure earlier this year at the Actors Theater of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays, "This Beautiful City" officially premieres at D.C.'s Studio Theater in a lively production that gently skewers the religious right.

Part of a Studio Theater initiative to help develop and produce new works, the play with music follows the April debut, in a developmental production at the Public Theater, of "Paris Commune" and last year's Off Broadway hit "Gone Missing." "This Beautiful City" is scheduled to play the Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles this fall and New York's Vineyard Theater next year.

Given the evangelical movement's much-publicized penchant for preaching forgiveness while practicing hardball politics, along with the personal failings of prominent movement leaders, the company could easily have delivered a partisan broadside about hypocrisy. The Civilians instead took a higher road that addresses the transgressions within a more balanced context.

Following the method of past productions, director Steven Cosson and the six-person troupe traveled to Colorado Springs in 2006 to conduct interviews and pursue research. They met with numerous members of the flock, from the die-hard to the disillusioned, along with church leaders and others.

The exercise occurred during a particularly calamitous period for evangelicals and the "beautiful city" of Colorado Springs. The Air Force Academy had previously erupted with scandals involving sexual harassment and religious discrimination, while Ted Haggard, the powerful founder of the New Life mega-church, had just been "outed" for improprieties involving prostitution and drug use. Meanwhile, area churches had become embroiled in political causes involving gay marriage, blurring the lines between church and state.

Perspectives on these and other issues are earnestly revealed from interview transcripts woven into a seamless collage interspersed with a blend of cowboy and religious rock tunes by Michael Friedman -- highlighted by act two's rousing "Take Me There" and the irreverent "E-mail From Ted Haggard." The sincerely performed and unrelated monologues collectively depict a powerful social and political force.

They include a revival meeting at the Revolution House of Prayer, personal reflections from a New Life Church parishioner, criticism from a self-appointed "church kicker" opponent, as well as insight into the movement's vast social networks. "We hope that righteousness reigns in this city," moralizes one stalwart.

Brad Heberlee is enjoyable as a charismatic New Life preacher who sidesteps the media's barbs and exhorts the congregation to vote against same-sex marriage. Marsha Stephanie Blake portrays a devout member of the troubled Emmanuel Baptist Church who assumes the pulpit following its own pastor's wayward behavior. Stephen Plunkett is effective as the energetic youth group leader as well as Haggard's much-troubled son.

The show is performed on a bare stage in front of a screen depicting an aerial view of Colorado Springs at the feet of the snow-capped Rockies. Two smaller screens left and right capture other video clips and slides.

It's safe to say evangelicals won't be terribly amused by the portrayal. But it all adds up to a generally humorous peek into the powerful church movement, although not an especially enlightening or compelling one. Running at two hours-plus, the show would benefit from some editing to strike some redundant perspectives.

Set and projections, Debra Booth; costumes, Lorraine Venberg; lighting, Michael Giannitti; sound, Erik Trester. Opened, reviewed, June 15, 2008. Runs through July 6. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Culture report: gatekeepers Causing a scene Can anyone save us from the aging subscribers and rank commercialism that has paralyzed our city’s stages?

By David Cote

After years of private bitching and public grumbling about our nonprofit theaters’ toothless seasons, homogeneous production designs and timid, old-man marketing, I’ve finally found a person with the taste and courage to be the ideal artistic director of the 21st century: me.

You heard right; I’ve sat through enough shit (and genius) and I want some power. Give me an annual budget of $5 million, all my downtown contacts and see if I don’t make a splash. I’d program a season of Anne Washburn, Young Jean Lee, Annie Baker and Will Eno. Plus—eventually—younger, unproduced playwrights who landed on my desk. (The more violent and obscene, the better.) Foreign writers, too, in fresh translations. Every first Monday I’d throw a free play reading with an open bar. In the summer, I’d open the doors for a two-month workshop by a favored company—Radiohole, the Debate Society or Nature Theater of Oklahoma—ending in a massive celebration. The advertising would be slick and bold, the tickets cheap, the parties raucous and the shows calculated to enrage, excite and astound. For the first five years, I would not accept any subscriber over the age of 35. I’d have blogs, press conferences, preshow talks and fat souvenir programs. I’d constantly bombard the media with video and op-ed pieces tied to our shows—when I wasn’t hosting a kick-ass party.

The next morning, hungover and broke, I realize that it was all a drunken dream.

Running a daring, high-quality theater in this town is nearly impossible. Whether you head the tiny Vineyard Theatre on East 15th Street (120 seats and an annual budget of $2 million) or the elephantine Roundabout Theatre Company (two Broadway spaces, an Off Broadway house, an Off-Off studio, 44,000 subscribers and $43 million to burn), you’ve got divided loyalties. Are the artists happy? Are the funders happy? Is the board happy? Natalie Portman is interested in Director A? Great, um, let’s find a project. What? Will Smith really wants you to read his friend’s play; it stinks, but the friend writes for HBO. Can you put Jada’s brother in the show? He’ll donate! The subscribers are pissed! The critics hate your guts!

I’m sure our artistic directors would like to do the right thing. I’m sure that the Roundabout’s Todd Haimes would love to hire Jack Cummings III to direct an American classic. Or that Lynne Meadow of Manhattan Theatre Club knows that Qui Nguyen needs her support. Or that Carole Rothman would be thrilled to turn Second Stage Theatre over to the Civilians, a downtown docu-theatrical troupe that could use a high-profile platform.

Actually, Oskar Eustis is already on that—he’s hosting the Civilians’ Paris Commune later this month. Eustis, who took over the Public Theater in 2004, has been rebuilding its downtown and political credibility. Only the third person to walk in Joe Papp’s shoes (after George C. Wolfe’s solid but commercial-minded rule of 1993 to 2004 and JoAnne Akalaitis’s aborted 20-month tenure), Eustis has made good moves: inviting the Wooster Group, hosting the Under the Radar Festival and spearheading an Off-Off series, the Public Lab. But can he truly revitalize the Public, get younger butts in seats, and make plays seem exciting and dangerous the way Papp (1921–1991) did?

Can there even be another Joe Papp? The legendary showman who started Shakespeare in the Park and recolonized the Astor Library was an impossible, controlling figure. He baited the critics, strong-armed the city and did all he could to make himself irreplaceable at the theater he created. His democratizing mission: Bring the classics to the people and foster a spirit of aesthetic adventure. But today, do “the people” want classics? It’s hard enough getting seasoned playgoers to embrace garden-variety postmodernism.

Robert Brustein, who founded and ran the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1980 to 2002, sees a bleak picture. “Critics, the subscription audience, the high cost of tickets, the collapse of the NEA as a predictable funding source…all of these things contribute to a general atmosphere of blandness and timidity,” he says via e-mail. “I think Jim Nicola at New York Theatre Workshop is maintaining high standards.… But never say never in the theater. Someone will come along with a burst of energy that will explode the general torpor.”

Gregory Mosher also has hopes for an artistic-director messiah. Mosher led Lincoln Center Theater from 1985 to 1991, and isn’t afraid to suggest radical solutions—like dumping pesky old subscribers. “The ‘next Papp’ is right here, wherever here is—could be Newark, for all we know,” Mosher says. “Joe’s successor is a young person, very likely a woman and a first- or second-generation American, with a startling idea and the determination to bring it to life. Joe had many wonderful qualities, but above all he had a compelling idea. His idea, however, was deeply strange at the time, and threatening to the status quo. And the next great idea will seem equally strange to us. We have to be alert for it and embrace it. And we have to remember that it probably won’t lead to something that looks like the Public, or LCT or any other 50-year-old company, but will be a new form.”

Well, whoever this revolutionary art leader is, I hope to be around to complain about their seasons. And to covet their job.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New Plays Exploring Difficult Relations


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The schisms in American society, both macro and micro, were on vivid display at this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theater of Louisville. The divisions between the religious right and the secular left, the tech-fueled widening of the generation gap and the ever-relevant question of what makes a modern marriage function smoothly were among the themes explored by playwrights at the festival.

Gina Gionfriddo’s “Becky Shaw,” an absorbing comedy-drama about a blind date that threatens to become a marriage-devouring black hole, was the festival’s heat-generating event, surely destined for New York and beyond. Ms. Gionfriddo’s “After Ashley” had its debut at the festival in 2004 and was later seen in New York, while her lively if contrived black comedy “U.S. Drag” just concluded a run Off Broadway. The new play marks an impressive stride for a writer with a saw-toothed wit and a seductive interest in exploring the rewards and responsibilities of emotional interdependence.

Devoted yentas and their grateful customers beware: “Becky Shaw” depicts an innocuous set-up gone spectacularly awry. We do not meet the toxic title character until midway through the first act, which begins in a New York hotel room where Suzanna (Mia Barron) listlessly mourns her father’s death, while Max (David Wilson Barnes), more or less adopted by Suzanna’s parents when he was 10, tries to shake her out of it.

He is also trying to plug the holes in the family’s financial affairs, left in disarray by Suzanna’s father, possibly because his business manager was also his lover. Suzanna’s mother, Susan (Janis Dardaris), an imperious woman whose multiple sclerosis has not stopped her from taking up with a much younger and disreputable man, remains as impervious to Max’s warnings of dire economic straits as Suzanna is to his tough-love approach to healing her grief.

Max’s role as the family fixer takes an unexpected turn at the end of this crackling first scene. Ms. Gionfriddo, a writer for “Law and Order,” has acquired a savvy aptitude for the deftly sprung plot twist. Firecrackers of revelation explode every few minutes in “Becky Shaw,” which is almost as quotably funny as Broadway’s scabrous “August: Osage County” — and that’s saying plenty.

Most of the choicest aperçus come from the superciliously pursed lips of Max, played with chilly, magnetic allure by Mr. Barnes in the festival’s standout performance. (It would be a shame if he were not allowed to reprise it should the play have a future life; Mr. Barnes was also in “The Scene” by Theresa Rebeck at this festival two years ago, a play in a similar vein that was mostly recast with higher-profile actors — to deleterious effect — when it came to New York.)

Max is cynical about all things romantic, and defines marriage as “two people coming together because each has something the other wants.” Suzanna, who is studying to become a therapist, at least likes to believe that she’s a true believer in love. By the second scene she is happily married to Andrew (Davis Duffield), a good-hearted would-be novelist scraping a living by working at a law firm. There he meets the lovely but lonely title character (Annie Parisse), whom they hope to pair off with the likewise single Max.

This is a bit like suggesting that a snake mate with a mouse, or so it first appears when the nervous Becky arrives for their first date glaringly overdressed and emotionally naked. But Ms. Gionfriddo keeps us guessing about the character (ditsy or wily? victim, manipulator or a little of both?) as divided allegiances — Suzanna’s to Max, Andrew’s to Becky — put a strain on the marriage and expose unexpected vulnerabilities.

Intricately plotted and studded with scathing one-liners, “Becky Shaw” also burrows into the ideas it engages about moral, intellectual and financial compatibility in romance, as well as the level of emotional commitment various relationships require. On the down side, virtually every scene would benefit from some pruning, and the title character is the least convincing in the play, at this point more a plot device than a credible woman. (It does not help that the director, Peter DuBois, and Ms. Parisse, who may simply be too gorgeous for the role, don’t seem to have settled on a consistent style for the performance.)

Still, “Becky Shaw” is a thoroughly enjoyable play, suspenseful, witty and infused with an unsettling sense of the potential for psychic disaster inherent in almost any close relationship.

The other significant show at the festival this year was “This Beautiful City,” an ambitious, talent-stretching production from the New York troupe the Civilians. Written by Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, directed by Mr. Cosson, and with songs by Michael Friedman, this collagelike revue addresses the rise of the evangelical Christian movement.

Fans of this gifted troupe may be surprised at the sincerity — and generosity — of the company’s approach to material that a hip New York theater company might be expected to put across with a wink and a wry smile. The production is close kin to “The Laramie Project,” the affecting documentary drama from Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theater Company about the cultural repercussions of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student in Wyoming.

As in their previous shows “Gone Missing” and “(I Am) Nobody’s Lunch,” the text is largely drawn from interviews conducted by the company. The timing of the Civilians’ visit to Colorado Springs, where mega-churches are as numerous as McDonald’s franchises, was propitious. They were apparently on the scene when Ted Haggard, pastor of the New Life Church and a leader in the movement, was forced to step down after he was linked to a male prostitute.

But “This Beautiful City” is not a polemical exposé in the Michael Moore mold. It is a thoughtful, exploratory foray into a world that, as the interviews make clear, was alien territory to the show’s creators. Voices of faithful believers are juxtaposed with those of critics of the movement’s power and its prerogatives. The history of the evangelical explosion in Colorado Springs is presented from various perspectives, as is the controversy over the powerful sway evangelicals supposedly came to wield at the Air Force Academy there.

Playing several roles each, the half-dozen leading performers — some Civilians regulars, some not — are all superb. None stoop to caricature, even when portraying characters on the far side of religious fanaticism. The fresh-faced Stephen Plunkett is a natural as a New Life pastor leading a youth group, and later as Mr. Haggard’s son Marcus, who addresses his father’s troubles in a speech that is surprisingly moving and eloquent. Marsha Stephanie Blake brings down the house as a fiery preacher who takes over a major black church when its pastor is forced out after he discloses his homosexuality.

“This Beautiful City” could use some editing too. The scenes set at a small church called the Revolutionary House of Prayer consume excessive stage time, and the ending is seriously flat. Mr. Friedman’s pleasant but unexceptional songs don’t add as much as they usually do to Civilians shows, perhaps because most of them are straightforward imitations of bland, folk-inflected Christian pop. You naturally miss the Cole Porteresque wordplay and sardonic humor of his best compositions.

The rest of the work at the festival varied from respectable to — well, to quote an irresistible assessment from a man I overheard fleeing one show at intermission, “not good is much too generous.”

On the respectable front Lee Blessing, the elder statesman among the participating playwrights, provided a solid if sleepy two-hander in “Great Falls.” Directed by Lucie Tiberghien and starring Tom Nelis and Halley Wegryn Gross as a stepfather and his stepdaughter on a road trip, the play is a well-observed but unspectacular voyage into familiar territory, perhaps fixated a little too exclusively on the sexuality of the young woman, a glib wiseacre in the “Juno” mold (and facing a similar problem).

If the title “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom” sounds like something you’d fire up on a PlayStation, that is entirely intentional. This play by Jennifer Haley uses a kill-the-zombies video game as a template for a thriller about the growing distance between distracted, self-absorbed parents and indulged, alienated teenagers in suburban America.

Ms. Haley writes credible dialogue for her younger characters — a delicate mission often bungled — but this material ill suits the stage. When worlds virtual and real eventually must collide, the result is a dramatic fizzle, although the production, directed by Kip Fagan, was convincingly acted and sleekly if simply designed.

The divided soul of a black man is exposed in “the break/s,” written and performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and directed by Michael John Garcés. Mr. Joseph is a naturally captivating dancer, moving with transfixing grace at any number of speeds. The performance is gloriously eloquent in its physicality, but less engaging when Mr. Joseph stops shredding the air with his limbs and simply delivers the opaque and meandering text about his various cultural travels.

I have been casting about for something charitable to say about “All Hail Hurricane Gordo,” a comedy by Carly Mensch (still a playwriting fellow at Juilliard) about two kooky, emotionally stunted brothers (Matthew Dellapina and Patrick James Lynch); one kooky, emotionally stunted young woman (Tracee Chimo); and a refreshingly well-adjusted white rabbit (name unavailable).

Perhaps I’ll just say that I loved the rabbit, and leave it at that.


An Overview of the 2008 Humana Festival of New American Plays

A CurtainUp Feature

By Charles Whaley

It has been a very good year indeed for the just ended 32nd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. All six full-length plays turned out to be strong offerings--with first rate acting in every one--but four of them seemed exceptional.

My vote for top honors is split between This Beautiful City, a mesmerizing, fiercely intelligent portrait of Colorado Springs, the Evangelical Capital of America, based on interviews and visits conducted by the group of New York artists called The Civilians, and Jennifer Haley's dark and dangerously fascinating Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, the name given to a violent online video game that intersects with real suburban life.

Also outstanding were Lee Blessing's Great Falls in which an unhappily divorced man (the excellent Tom Nelis) gets his defiant teenage stepdaughter (marvelous Halley Wegryn Gross) into his car and takes off on a road trip through the Great Northwest so they can "talk," and Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw, a subtly scathing look at a supposedly helpless female manipulator (think Eve Harrington in All About Eve) who relishes her own victimization as she wrecks the lives of others.

Annie Parisse expertly played Becky, the type of woman who on a casual blind date overdresses in a backless satin outfit. Max (the superb David Wilson Barnes), the rich money manager whose friends arranged the date, is suitably appalled. But Becky's menacing Fatal Attraction stance at play's end bodes ill for Max's determination to erase her from his life. Blessing's works have often been produced at ATL, including previous Humana festivals, and Gionfriddo's After Ashley was the major hit at the 2004 festival. ATL artistic director Marc Masterson noted at a panel disccussion on "Curating New Work Festivals" that three of this year's festival plays, all co-productions, will be seen soon at other venues.

This Beautiful City, co-produced with The Studio Theatre in Washington, D. C., will stop there before moving to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Writer and performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph's hip hop piece, the break/s, which I found to be of little interest beyond Joseph's incredible dance movements, was co-produced with Living Word Project and will be at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Spoleto Festival plus half a dozen other places.

Carly Mensch's hyperkinetic All Hail Hurricane Gordo, produced with the Cleveland Play House, is set for a run there. This crisply written tale of two young brothers--one of them a mentally unstable constantly-in-motion force of nature (an incredibly convincing Patrick James Lynch)--left to fend for themselves in the family home after their parents abandoned them in a parking lot and drove away will test anyone's capacity to suspend disbelief. Even so it makes for engrossing watching.

Kudos to the four cast members of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom who brilliantly portray both real and video characters (John Leonard Thompson and Kate Hampton as fathers and mothers; Robin Lord Taylor and Reyna de Courcy as sons and daughters) and to Kip Fagan for masterful direction.

This Beautiful City, commissioned and developed by The Civilians, was written by Steven Cosson, who also directed, and Jim Lewis from interviews conducted by them and most Civilians company members. Michael Friedman's pitch perfect music and lyrics amplify the memorably performed monologues and the church and outdoor scenes. The play, especially in its overly long second act, could benefit from cuts. It puts into powerful perspective the New Life megachurch, whose charismatic pastor Ted Haggard was exposed for his hypocritical relationship with crystal meth and a male prostitute, and Focus on the Family, "the biggest conservative Christian media empire in the world", both headquartered in Colorado Springs among 4000 Christian organizations. It's a probing examination of a cancerous threat to the U. S. Constitution. As a community activist says of the Christian right, "They've got a big picture and it has to do with big things like dismantling government programs and privatizing public education cause the more thay can dismantle the more people need the church to provide those services. Faith based initiatives, all that. Right. And what do you think that means for the Christian leaders? Power and money."

Also in the festival mix were four 10-minute plays and Game On, an athletic anthology satirizing sports madness contributed by seven writers as a showcase for ATL's 2007-08 Acting Apprentice Company. Jose Urbino was hilarious in a pantomime tennis routine. Most of the sketches featured monotonously shouted four letter words. There was an appalling "eating contest" for which parents trained children to gorge on food in preparation for winning prizes and acclaim. And Andy Lutz, Christopher Scheer, and Nicholas Combs were wild and crazy in an extreme sports episode heavy on homoeroticism. Best of the 10-minute plays was Elaine Jarvis's Dead Right with Dori Legg and William McNulty as an older couple reading newspaper obituaries at their kitchen table and thinking and talking about what they wanted put in their own.