Down for the Count, a festival of one-acts written by women, is refreshing, intriguing, entertaining. Produced now for the second year by Bishop Arts Theatre Center, and directed by Gail Cronhauer, it features five short plays. Each is one different, not only from the others, but from the mainstream theatre we so often see. Strangely enough, none of them are really comedies (though some have amusing moments) which is unusual for this kind of anthology. None of them is conventional, and even if we anticipate the ending, each one confounds our expectations.
Cecelia Copeland’s Smashing the Patriarchy depicts a typical day of political maneuvering and navigation by Constance, a Senator. She fights for the right for women to choose, and spars with those who consider such issues to be nothing more than bargaining chips and/or leverage. Usually when we see a politician who is (if I may be so bold) fighting on the side of the angels, they are naive, or thin-skinned, or both. They are often overwhelmed by the chicanery of the opposition, and too quick to consider capitulating. Not Constance, nor Martina, her assistant. They are very comfortable dealing in the blue language so often used in these grueling battles, and cut through duplicity and disingenuousness without a quiver. When they suspect another woman is shilling for the opponent, they call her on it. Copeland never panders to the idea that women make better nurturers than warriors. Smashing the Patriarchy is very satisfying from an ethical standpoint, though a more toxic adversary might have made for better friction.
Camika Spencer’s Things That Go Bump is easily the strongest piece out of this impressive cluster of plays. We find Daniel, a recovering alcoholic with anger issues, trying to remember the words to The Serenity Prayer. He has recently reconciled with Natalie, his estranged wife, and they are trying to talk things out. It is truly surprising (especially in a genre that uses such brevity) to see how Spencer expresses the profound pain and isolation of a character who is not particularly likable. It would have been easy to convince us that Daniel was solely responsible for his catastrophic situation (and perhaps he is) but we mostly feel just very, very sad. And chilled.
The Red Zone by Ashley Edwards is a strange, kind of giddy, frantic exploration of an extremely unorthodox couple: Gretchen and Isaac. Back in their halcyon days, Isaac and Gretchen first connected on Halloween. Something about their eccentric (but innocuous) worldviews made this bizarre, romantic context feel like kismet. Both of these people are congenial, funny and genuine, even if they have poor impulse control. The Red Zone’s hook is its appeal for hanging on to the spontaneous, unpredictable aspects of life. Rather than settling for a marriage that is tepid and mundane, Gretchen and Isaac try to preserve the loopy behavior that keeps them young and energized.
How to Iron a Shirt, by Carmela Lamberti opens on a “Woman” with an ironing board, carefully pressing her husband’s dress blue shirt, for a special occasion. This piece is something of a soliloquy. She describes her technique for getting the sleeves, collar, edges, just right, while discussing her relationship with her dad and her spouse. The pace is pretty much what you’d expect from the casual conversation you might have while taking your time with a chore. Lamberti is pretty sly. Gradually we get the bits and pieces in the mosaic of a lady who expresses devotion by taking such meticulous care of her loved ones. We share in her warmth, her loneliness, her frustration. Lamberti composes the narrative subtly, seamlessly and memorably.
Josefina Lopez’s Hypsteria is a morality tale about Lucha and her son, Freddie. Lucha is an activist, who has vigilantly defeated drug dealers, thieves, and other predators that have made life unsafe for decent families. All of this (she says) in the name of motherhood and justice. When a greedy landlord has their tenement condemned for the sake of turning a profit, Lucha and Freddie pitch a tent on the property to prevent new owners from subjecting the neighborhood to gentrification. Lucha uses the expression, “hipsters”, which (in this case) means edgy millennials. These millennials appropriate properties with quirky, bohemian charm, marginalizing the working class in the process. While Lucha is undoubtedly admirable, and a stalwart crusader, she can also be a pain. In the process of demanding a fair shake, Lucha discovers that one of the owners actually has a conscience and a heart. Lopez gives us a heroine who gets the job done, even if she bears more resemblance to Mother Teresa than Saint Bernadette.
Bishop Arts Theatre Center (TeCo Theatrical Productions) presents Down for the Count, a One Act Festival playing February 16th-26th, 2017. 215 South Tyler Street, Dallas, Texas 75208. 214-948-0716. www.BishopArtsTheatre.org.