I suppose there might be some point in staging the three one-act plays that Horizons calls collectively "New Voices '85" as an end-of-the-semester project for Playwriting 101. But the theater company, housed in the Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown, errs seriously in thinking that they merit a protracted run before a general audience.
These voices are too simply thin, too imitative, too banal to hold our attention for long. After such splendid productions as "Top Girls" and "The Last Days at the Dixie Girl Cafe," Horizons seems to have temporarily reverted to its earlier days, when a play was somehow deemed worthy as long as it addressed the general frustrations of woman's lot.
"New Voices '85" certainly has as its common thread the lack of fulfilment of its all-female characters -- abandoned and/or checkmated wives, struggling actress, would-be writer -- whose sense of inner worth has not necessarily been rewarded by success or even happiness. All three authors seem to be drawing on personal experience, the cardinal rule of beginning playwriting (write about what you know!). But these characters are neither deep nor original enough to justify the time we spend with them, and a whiny self-pity blankets the evening as a whole.
The first two -- Beth Joselow's "Suzanne" and Jude Adler's "Bruises" -- are extended monologues, clearly inspired by the pseudonymous Jane Martin, whose quirky "Talking With . . ." was a hit at Horizons last season. Suzanne (Constance Fowlkes) has been deserted by her husband and spends her days combing the beach with a metal detector, looking for lost objects in the sand. (Lest the symbolism of her quest elude us, she explains that people also lose one another, piece by piece.)
The aspiring writer in "Bruises" (Patricia Tulli) has been junked by her boyfriend and is nurturing a bad case of writer's block. She, it turns out, is talking to an invisible shrink, but her woes are really the stuff of endless late-night confessions in the college dorm.
Ronni Brenner manages to rustle up two characters for "Change at Jamaica," which recounts the unlikely friendship that springs up between an actress (Cam Magee) and a wealthy housewife (Joni Lee Jones), while they wait on a subway platform for their respective trains. They, too, air a lot of grievances and pain, but through a ritual reenactment of childbirth, apparently give one another renewed courage to face the future.
None of the actresses is enhanced by this material, and Magee actually succeeds in further falsifying it with a phony-baloney performance as the actress whose career is going nowhere. Instead of getting out the pruning shears and snipping away, director Jean Harrison simply lets the plays run on indulgently in the bare minimum sets by Kate Guenther.
"New Voices '85" continues through July 7. Only a quantum leap in the quality of the scripts will justify a "Voices '86." Showcasing mediocrities, Horizons risks squandering the good will it has painstakingly built over the past few seasons.