FUTILE ATTRACTION and
One Day Short Theatre
at Cafe Voltaire
In the great tragic romances, wisdom about love is hard won. After killing Desdemona in a jealous rage, Othello cries out that he should be remembered as a man who loved “not wisely, but too well.” Both he and Desdemona learn the wages of jealousy, but at least they had a good thing going before Iago went and ruined it. The poor souls in the two one-act antiromances One Day Short Theatre has picked for its premiere production also have love problems. But rather than go through the hassle and mess of an actual relationship, these modern lovers try to take shortcuts to a wise perspective on love.
Such is the folly of Bobby and Mike in Paul Surace’s Futile Attraction, who sit in a pickup bar playing the “Is she looking at me?” game and hoping some gorgeous woman will find them instantly irresistible. When it becomes all too clear that this will not happen, they start to formulate outrageous theories that will make their rotten luck more palatable. Boasting knowledge of all the intricacies of human sexuality, Bobby suggests that women gravitate to the good-looking bouncers and bartenders because they’re wearing tuxedos: “They associate tuxedos with marriage.” Bobby also tells the all-too-pliable Mike that “This ‘boy meets girl’ thing is a scam. Women call all the shots.” However, their ultimate solace is numbness, as Bobby triumphantly exclaims, “Boy meets girl, bullshit! Boy drinks beer!”
After establishing his theme in a strong first scene, Surace unfortunately fails to develop the play beyond comedy-sketch status. The characters are strong–Bobby is the blind teacher passing his poisoned ideas on to the trusting Mike–but once the ideas have been clearly delineated they’re simply repeated. Bobby’s rant falls into a stagy cadence, seeming like a cross between David Mamet and “Who’s on First?” Scott Turney and Pete Kanetis are likable as Bobby and Mike, supporting each other in their delusions of happiness as single men. But a stronger central action is needed to give the irony of their cozy misery more bite.
The more original and complex Private Eye examines the same theme in much greater detail. A tongue-in-cheek flashlight ballet between the three trench coat-clad actors cleverly establishes the mock film noir style of Cynthia Wasseen’s script. It seems that Laura Pryce, a desperately beautiful woman, is in love with Johnny Wright. Wright is a bit of a mystery, though, always keeping his cards well hidden. So Laura hires Jake Manhattan, private eye, to find out if Wright loves her. Naturally, there’s more here than meets the eye. While Laura thinks she’s just hiring a detective, Jake thinks she’s drawing him into her feminine web. As they struggle over who has control of the mock Mickey Spillane narrative, the mystery deepens.
As the action gets more and more absurd, Wasseen’s insights get sharper. A silly dinner conversation in which Laura and Johnny trade cliches about the moon becomes a bizarre test of Laura’s affection. Johnny thoughtlessly insults her and she flees. Unruffled, Johnny brings a less complicated date to the restaurant–an inflatable doll named Sally. As Jake looks on nonplussed, Johnny waltzes Sally about the room with a look of bliss. Clearly he’s happier with a date that makes no demands and requires little maintenance. He can control their relationship without her asking for testaments of his love. Little does he know that Laura’s hidden past with Jake makes her much more attractive.
Director Shelly Taylor stages both works with terrific comic style, but her imagination is obviously sparked more by Wasseen’s script. Using the odd dimensions of Cafe Voltaire’s space to best advantage, Taylor plays with the depth of the stage in the shadows and light of Mark A. Fossen’s lighting design. She also explores the comic possibilities of these cramped quarters by having Johnny spy on Laura and Jake from behind a potted plant. The actors also seem driven by the script. Michelle Nance plays Laura as breathless and fickle at first, but later shows us how strong she can be. Darren Kennedy is hilarious as Jake, the man of stone who can’t stand the sight of blood. Fossen is also very funny as Wright, a sniveling coward posing as a lover.
One Day Short Theatre’s statement on the back of the program gives an odd twist to the production. Since it calls itself a “Christ-centered theater company” exploring a “Biblical view of man,” these secular one-acts don’t seem a natural choice. Taylor claims that the show displays “man in a fallen state, without God.” Maybe so, but it seems these characters are not exactly fallen, just human. Maybe the company simply liked the plays and looked for a reason to do them. No sin in that.