Little Crashes/Old, Rhinoceros Theater Festival, at the Lunar Cabaret. For the casual theatergoer, weaned on traditional fare like Our Town and Death of a Salesman, local playwright Peter Handler’s slice-of-life one-acts might appear fragmented. But Handler–like others in the Rhinoceros Theater Festival–wants to go beyond the limited tastes of John Q. Patron.

In Old, two haggard 70-year-old sisters and their cantankerous 90-year-old mother trade epithets like “motherfucker” and “bitch” in between bouts of narcolepsy and desperate grasps for the oxygen tank. Caged together in the same room of a nondescript nursing home, they wax nostalgic, Edward Albee-style, about their father and husband, fighting for the past more fervently than they fight for their own lives. Little Crashes, about a woman who vainly attempts to inform a bickering couple about a nearby airplane crash, ups the ante by playing an even more tragic situation for greater laughs.

Director Hallie Gordon adds some deft touches to the staging, while Tracy Landecker and Andrew Micheli turn in a pair of credible performances as the sparring hayseeds. But in both one-acts Handler’s knack for clever dialogue built on paradoxes (“She’ll outlive us all if she doesn’t die first”) occasionally obstructs the work’s sense of progression. It’s not that Handler dispenses with plot entirely, but the sum of his beautifully drawn individual moments doesn’t always add up to a greater whole.

–Nick Green