Bath House Steams Up With Hot FIT Shows

Theater Caps are bite-sized punch-packing capsule reviews by resident theater critic Elaine Liner. Use them as a reminder -- or a teaser, if you procrastinate -- of her full-length reviews in The Mixmaster's weekly sister.

If you haven't made it over to the Festival of Independent Theatres yet, get there now. This year's fest is a bonanza of great acting and smart writing. How good are these short, provocative shows? The packed house last weekend barely minded that the Bath House Cultural Center was so hot it felt like watching plays in a locked-up storage unit.

The A/C's been fixed now, we hear, so there are no excuses for missing a lineup of live theater pieces that includes some extraordinary performances.

Be sure to catch The Madness of Lady Bright, an early Lanford Wilson one-act that's regarded as a vanguard of gay drama. Veteran Dallas actor Larry Randolph plays Leslie, an aging drag queen so lonely she calls Dial-a-Prayer to hear a human voice. The voices in Leslie's head are from her past and include young lovers (all played by Justin Locklear and Cassie Bann) who left their autographs on the apartment wall. As Leslie preens at her makeup table, surrounded by the feathers and sequins of her old career on the stage, her mind plays tricks, confusing past and present.

It's a funny, tragic, haunting little play, superbly performed in this One Thirty production directed by Morgana Shaw. (It's onstage at FIT again at 5 p.m., Saturday, July 30; 2 p.m., Sunday, July 31; and 8 p.m., Saturday, August 6.)

The world premiere of The Love Song of the Albanian Sous Chef by Robert Askins has to be the surprise hit of the festival. Produced by Rite of Passage Theatre, it's a rom-com about a lovesick chef (played wonderfully by Adrian Churchill) too shy to share his feelings with the waitress (Whitney Holotik) he's pining for. Instead, on her last night working in his restaurant, he cooks her a gourmet six-course meal as a goodbye gesture.

The surprises begin when the soup and seafood speak aloud. This chef lets his food do the talking for him. Start to finish, this play is delicious. (See it at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 30; 2 p.m., Sunday, July 31; 8 p.m., Thursday, August 4; or 2 p.m., Saturday, August 6.)

Squirrels by David Mamet had its opening night audience gasping with laughter. Performed by Churchmouse Productions (a subsidiary of Pegasus Theatre), it's an absurd one-act about two writers (Ben Schroth, Jim Kuenzer) and a cleaning lady (Mollie Milligan) stuck on the subject of squirrels. As a study in the frustration of collaborative writing, this one is Mamet at his most lighthearted as a playwright. And it's hilarious.

We really dug the sweater on Schroth embroidered with a giant acorn (costumes are by Samantha Rodriguez). (See it 8 p.m., Friday, July 29; 2 p.m., Saturday, July 30; 5 p.m., Sunday, July 31; or 5 p.m., Saturday, August 6.)

Tickets are cheap for FIT, starting at $12. And stick around after the shows for free improv comedy and music in the Bath House's basement space, where there's a bar, benches and room for games and dancing. For the afternoon matinees, there's even a food truck park back there. Standing O for the portabello sandwich.

Festival of Independent Theatres continues through August 6 at the Bath House Cultural Center. Call 800-617-6904. Or festivalofindependenttheatres.org.

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