THE PLIGHT of the underclass is the thematic link between "Bag Lady" and "The Orgy," a pair of odd, unsettling one-act plays at the Sanctuary Theater, which specializes in "theater of conscience." If the evening is less than satisfying, the fault lies in the plays themselves, not with Sanctuary's energetic, economical presentation.
Jean-Claude van Itallie's "Bag Lady" is an hour spent in the company of Clara, a weathered street dweller who has been in and out of institutions. We glean bits and pieces of Clara's story and state of mind as she inventories her eclectic belongings, which she leaves strewn over Tim Goecke's subway grate set.
Unfortunately, van Itallie's play is as cluttered and haphazard as the contents of Clara's bag. Sanctuary founder Elizabeth Bruce is startlingly convincing in the part, as Clara shuttles rapidly between clarity and incoherence. When not speaking directly to the audience, Clara sits and warily watches offstage passersby. As she listens, "invisible" to them, the voices prattle about insignificant concerns, but the clever effect and the ironic point it should make are spoiled by a tape that garbles the exchanges.
Next up is Enrique Buenaventura's "The Orgy," a broadly acted grotesque burlesque in which an old woman steals money from her mute son to hold a monthly "orgy," for which she hires beggars to reenact key scenes from better days. The play can be seen as satirical allegory of a money-mad, insensitive society that forces the poor to sing for their supper, while willfully neglecting their basic needs for food and shelter. Both plays share an ironic backdrop -- a garish postcard bearing the legend "Greetings From Hollywood."
BAG LADY & THE ORGY -- At the Sanctuary Theater (Calvary United Methodist Church, 1459 Columbia Road NW) through April 19.