Flying Blind

Airy dialogue twists Tongue of a Bird

You can even imagine an audience member handing them a scenario scribbled on a card: "Horny dentist wants to tryst with his bosomy assistant after work, but his gay son and hypochondriacal patient keep interfering." The two clauses in that sentence are bloated, Macy's Parade-style, to lumber through the almost-hour of May's "In and Out of the Light," the evening's final one-act. Dr. Kesselman (Dennis Maher, seemingly miscast in his flubbed attempts at middle-aged Jewish crisis) leers and desperately wants to grope bosomy, kewpie doll-voiced Sue (Rachel Arthur). Meanwhile, his grown son (David Stroh) is determined to reveal both his sexual orientation and his career ambitions. (He wants to be a hygienist, not a dentist, which ranks as more controversial than the gay thing in Kesselman's mind.) A hostile patient (Wendy Welch) who catalogs with a tape recorder the triggers of her anxiety disorder and demands immediate treatment joins them. Arthur did pull laugh after laugh with her impersonation of the sexy but oblivious dame, and she almost saved the evening. But actors are reduced by the playwright to chasing each other around the dentist's chair and even a little vaudeville kick routine after 45 minutes; they're maddening payoffs to the shallowest exercise in this grueling theatrical triathlon.

Almost as insubstantial is May's "The Way of All Fish," but Welch imbues real Machiavellian menace to Ms. Asquith, a driven executive who deigns to have an impromptu sushi dinner with her meek receptionist Miss Riverton (Arthur, unrecognizable from her bimbo turn in the last act). The power play here? Miss Riverton has been studying the personality profiles of assassins and slowly begins to recount her ambition to "kill someone famous" as her life's achievement. Ms. Asquith eventually calls her bluff, issues career threats, and laughter does not ensue. Curtain.

Sandwiched between is Arkin's "Virtual Reality," an amusing vignette about a pair of none-too-bright hired hands (Maher and Stroh) awaiting a shipment of unidentified mob bounty inside a warehouse. They begin a series of "rehearsals"--how they're going to move and arrange the mysterious boxes--that recalls some of the wordless physical skits that May perfected with comic partner Mike Nichols in early-'60s stage and television. But those rarely exceeded 10 minutes, and "Virtual Reality" approaches 60, as Stroh grows insanely more enthusiastic about his role in the black market with amphetamine-crazy pantomimes. The always-reliable Stroh appears to be driving on fumes by the time Arkin's piece ends.

Susan Sergeant, right, plays a rescue aviator hired by Jaquelyn Poplar to find her missing daughter in WingSpan Theatre’s latest.
Susan Sergeant, right, plays a rescue aviator hired by Jaquelyn Poplar to find her missing daughter in WingSpan Theatre’s latest.

Details

Tongue of a Bird runs through March 31 at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther. Call (972) 504-6218.

Power Plays runs through March 24 at WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Call (972) 650-6232.

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Three years ago, New York critics swooned over the self-indulgent, simplistic, and seriously dated Power Plays, although in his gossip column, The Village Voice's Michael Musto says he felt like he was sitting in "a dinner theater in Boca Raton" for all the ticket money he'd shelled out. WaterTower's version doesn't boast May and Arkin onstage in their original production, but three of the four actors here prove polished and skillful enough to betray May and Arkin's fatal confusion of the one-act with the sketch. It seems like some kind of mad scientist's monstrous stage experiment: Take a skit-sized setup and draw it out for the better part of an hour. Take my advice: If this shambling, crushing creature calls for you on an uneventful weekend night, lock the doors and turn on the VCR.

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