Less bang for the buck

Pegasus' comedy relies too heavily on camp to deliver its punch

Director Bruce Coleman may have made a mistake pitching this play so broadly, with various characters turning to deliver their punch lines directly to the audience, their faces frozen in mock reaction shots. It sometimes seems to disrupt the flow of Lovett's banter and generally gives you the impression that these actors are working a little too hard to delight you. In my mind's ear, Lovett's language sounds less Neil Simon and more Noël Coward; it should be finessed, tossed off without the characters' intention to make it a laugh riot, but with the performers' skills to do so. There are moments throughout Unrequited Love's a Bore that are genuinely delightful, that remind you just how revolutionary this warhorse material is when trotted into the same-sex arena. You also can't help but feel that Coleman and Lovett drop the (screw)ball too many times by encouraging these actors (with the notable exception of Nye Cooper) to wrap their performances in the gaudy rags of camp.

Unrequited Love's a Bore runs through June 5. Call (214) 821-6005.

We seem to be in the midst of a harmonic convergence of Dallas or Dallas-related playwrights with full-scale world-premiere productions of their work right here at home. From the aforementioned Steve Lovett to Undermain associate Cameron Cobb to the Bath House's recent Festival of Independent Theaters to Kitchen Dog's upcoming New Works Festival, new plays are sprouting like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Add to this fungoid torrent Christina Matthews' debut script Holiday Rules Are in Effect. It's the first of two one-acts being staged at the 11th Street Theatre Project, whose 1999 season features area playwrights. Her work is paired with Barbara Macchias' very dark sibling saga titled Red Sedum Creeper. 11th Street has chosen to label this coupling Southern Rituals: Two One-Act Plays.

Matthews was born in Louisiana, but grew up in this state with relatives across the Panhandle and West Texas. Holiday Rules Are in Effect is her script, written over the last year, about a "Northicized" daughter returning to her family after a long absence for that most sacred and hypocritical American ritual: the holiday meal. She discovers that, suddenly, no one is familiar with the others and that all territory is fresh and fraught. Matthews, who lives in New York with her husband, admits there is some autobiography here.

"There's this transplanted Texan community in New York City, a total expatriate community," she says, laughing. "It seems most of us are from SMU or the University of Dallas. Whenever Lincoln Center hosts a Brave Combo performance, every Texan from the tri-state area gathers; you can tell the way we applaud and yell. When I first went back to Texas, it was weird, and then when I came back to New York, it was also weird. I started thinking about family, relatives, and how everyone's in therapy, but that's silly because no one's more screwed up than anyone else."

Matthews says that Holiday Rules Are in Effect deliberately tries to avoid Southern Gothic ("nobody's insane and living in a crumbling New Orleans mansion in this play") and instead shoots for a subtler form of conflict: "This is not a hick family; most of them went to college. But they're also a Southern churchgoing family, and [the returning daughter] lives in a house with her boyfriend, unmarried. It's not so much a moral objection, it's that this goes against their traditions, against what they expect family is supposed to be."

Matthews explains that everyone expected her to go the black, bleak comedy route ("because of my personality"), but she surprised even herself by writing a flat-out comedy. It's punched with moments that are not comic, but, she says, "mostly, I went with the way the characters began to behave, and it turned out light-hearted. Nobody seriously damages each other in this play. But they all have their peculiarities. I just wanted to say: 'Instead of shipping all of them out to therapy, we should modify our idea of normal and allow for a little strangeness.'"

Southern Rituals: Two One-Act Plays runs May 13 through May 29. Call (214) 522-

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