To evoke culture shock, it would be hard to find a pithier image than a vampiric Elena Ceausescu singing the John Denver hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads." In Romanian.
Absurdism earns its keep in Saviana Stanescu's hallucinatory play "Waxing West," now on view in an engaging, if coltish, 4615 Theatre Company production directed by Jordan Friend. There's a droll kookiness to the crooning by the undead Elena Ceausescu — in real life, wife to Romania's longtime dictator. But the moment also conveys the disorientation of the play's heroine, Daniela, a Romanian cosmetologist who moves to New York to marry a stranger.
A spunky but vulnerable figure in gray pajamas, Daniela (an endearing Alexandra Nicopoulos) struggles to find her bearings in a world where traditional gender roles and notions of community have expired. Should she keep house for Charlie (Charlie Cook), the loutish computer programmer she has been sent to marry? Should she aspire to intellectualism, like her Gilgamesh-obsessed homeless friend, Uros (Frank Mancino)? And how to handle her memories of the Romanian Revolution, which led to the executions of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu (Nahm Darr and Alani Kravitz)?
Flashing back and forth in time and space with phantasmagorical details (projected scene titles; direct address by Daniela; hauntings by the Ceausescus, who have morphed into vampires), "Waxing West" is unpredictable and funny. In one now-loopy, now-menacing scene, Daniela indulges Charlie's sexual fantasy: She's the cook, and he's a roasting turkey.
Callowness tinges the performances here and there, but the lively staging on a spare, no illusions set complements the script. Notable supporting turns include Sue Struve as Daniela's restless mother and Kravitz as the smirking Elena, who enjoys reminiscing about Ceausescu-regime torture sessions.
Divergent realities also collide in "This Is All Just Temporary," a new work by Olivia Haller. (Both productions are part of the Women's Voices Theater Festival.) Now premiering in a stilted Convergence Theatre production directed by Elena Velasco, the play follows a recent college graduate whose life is complicated by her brother's autism.
Lauren (Fabiolla da Silva) has moved back home, where her parents (Taunya Ferguson and David Walsh) cope with their increasingly aggressive autistic son, Noah. The circumstances freight everyday situations — a birthday party, a date night for the parents — with guilt and anxiety.
Haller's script is thoughtful, compassionate and apparently deeply informed, but it is stylistically staid, and the Convergence production is often wooden. During realistic scenes, the actors look stiff and awkward. Short nonrealistic, dancelike sequences may hint at the characters' yearnings, but the import is murky.
More resonant are the projections that represent Noah's richly colored artwork. The wall panel relaying these images sometimes shows, instead, a human silhouette: evidently, Noah's, never otherwise seen. These pictorial moments are beautiful and poignant; the rest of the show feels prosaic.