The Tragedy of Ben and With a Whimper, Excaliber Shakespeare Company of Chicago, at New Harrison Street Galleries Studio Theatre. Mark Macoun, the recent Valparaiso University graduate who wrote and directed this pair of one-acts, may have talent. There are brief flickers of it in these works. The Tragedy of Ben has a strong, attention-grabbing beginning–after an offstage gunshot, a young hood enters covered with blood. And some of the dialogue in the first third of With a Whimper, about a bartender and a difficult customer, conveys well the emotional neediness behind apparently casual conversation.

But most of the time these plays are overwritten and fail to maintain even a minimal level of dramatic tension. In The Tragedy of Ben, Macoun quickly drops the premise of a senseless killing in a convenience store in favor of a long, dreary conversation about whether one of the two characters is going to face up to being gay.

With a Whimper has nothing comparable to an offstage killing, just a talkative barfly (nicely performed by Derrik Anthony) and a very patient bartender. The one moment of real drama comes when the customer, refusing to be tossed out at closing time, takes out a gun. He says he just wants to talk; disappointingly, that’s all he does.