The three winners of the annual one-act play contest conducted by the New Playwrights' Theatre aren't exactly losers, but they're far less original than one might hope, considering that the theater made its pick from 350 entries this year.
The best of the three, Peter Perhonis' "The Finer Points of the Situation," takes a warm glance at a Greek-American family ruled by an autocratic father, who wants to manage the career and marriage of his eldest son. The play details the clash of Old and New World values when the son briefly returns home with a girlfriend (not Greek) and the announcement that he's going back into the Army (not the family construction business). Perhonis has a good feel for the idiosyncrasies of his characters and with a little more delving he should be able to transcend the sitcom facility that now characterizes his script. There are glimmers of comic truth here and there, and Perhonis is clearly on the right track when he has the father, whose blustering temper has always been law, warn his independent son, "You gonna make your mother mad!"
Unfortunately, "The Tangled Snarl," a spoof of the hard-boiled 1930s detective yarn, is the sort of script that has been written 250 times. Its authors, John Rustan and Frank Semerano, who apparently collaborate by long-distance telephone, have come up with nothing new, but a lot that's shopworn. As a private eye named Spuds Idaho, William de Rham has the tough mannerisms and the 5 o'clock shadow down pat. But lines like "Fingers had Legs under his thumb" consistently fall short of zany, leaving most of the other players high, dry and silly.
In "Never Say Never," Tobey Chappell dissects a 15-year-old marriage of no great interest. The wife wants to sneak away to the Hilton Hotel for two days' worth of reflection on her own. The husband catches her on her way out the door. The ensuing late-night chatter deals with their respective shortcomings, needs, peeves and extramarital affairs. Plays in which characters talk about their relationship are rarely as interesting as those in which they demonstrate it by their actions. Chappell's drama, in fact, drones on tediously, despite an engaging performance by Hank Jackelen, as the husband with what seemed to me to be all of Job's patience and then some. Susan Goldstein, however, is so whining and charmless as the misunderstood wife that very early on I found myself rooting for her to be shoved out the door--bag, baggage and neuroses.
The triple bill, notable only because it shows that the New Playwrights' is still in there slugging away, continues through May 2.
A FESTIVAL OF ONE ACTS, by John Rustan, Frank Semerano, Tobey Chappell and Peter Perhonis. Directed by John E. Jacobson and Jay Beckner. Sets, Lewis Folden; costumes, Maryclare Gromet, B. Belino; lighting, James S. Katen. With William de Rham, Debra Macut, Susan Goldstein, Hank Jackelen, Seymour M. Horowitz, Ernie Meier. At the New Playwrights' Theatre through May 2.