THE PARK BENCH PLAYS, Equity Library Theatre Chicago, at Breadline Theatre. All three plays in this evening of one-acts are centered on a park bench, which saves lots of money on the set. And all three productions have the same casting problem: one actor who really understands what he or she is doing onstage and one who doesn’t.

This pattern is most pronounced in Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story–a play that’s been produced ad nauseam. Larry Dahlke is superb as Peter, the upper-middle-class stick-in-the-mud: he’s every inch the smug fool he’s supposed to be. But Steven J. Anderson is over-the-top and unconvincing as Jerry, the crazy man who hassles Peter and who should be both threatening and fascinating, seductive and scary. Similarly unconvincing is Michael McKay’s wooden performance as the man in Israel Horovitz’s allegory about marriage, Shooting Gallery. Roxanne Fay is somewhat more believable as the suffering wife, though she too wilts over the course of this simplistic play: as usual, Horovitz makes his point early on but continues writing.

The acting is a bit better balanced in John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year, a sweet little absurdist piece about a couple who meet and fall in love in a park. Julie Ganey seems more comfortable playing the likable but rather passive woman, however, than Dan Kuhlman is as Guare’s lovable cad, a role he consistently overplays.

–Jack Helbig