Three women onstage. At left a young woman in a white dress is seated. A woman in a pink blazer and black skirt is standing next to her, appearing to be very upset. Another woman on the right, in a sleeveless white blouse and black trousers, stands stoically. There is a table with a pink phone in front of them, and index cards are flying all through the air.
Alice Gerstenberg's Fourteen, part of A Night of Classic and Unique One Acts at Theatre Above the Law Credit: Ian Muentener

Theatre Above the Law’s sampler platter of four one-acts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries (most of them seldom produced) offers mixed results. The opening piece, A Dollar by Yiddish playwright David Pinski, feels like an extended acting exercise in which archetypes (the Comedian, the Villain, the Ingenue, etc.) fight over the titular object. But things improve quickly with Thornton Wilder’s The Wreck on the 525, an odd and haunting piece about Mr. Hawkins (Nick Barnes), a “family man” who seems to be having big doubts about his life. It’s a cunning taste of Wilder’s ability to find the mysterious in the quotidian (as in Our Town), with a scosh of Cheeverlike dark suburban angst woven in.

A Night of Classic and Unique One Acts
Through 12/18: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Mon 12/5 7:30 PM (industry night); no performances Fri-Sun 11/25-11/27; Jarvis Square Theater, 1439 W. Jarvis, theatreatl.org, $25 (senior/student $20)

Alice Gerstenberg’s Fourteen is a madcap feminist comedy of manners, presented like a sitcom, applause track and all. A society woman (Jamie Redwood) attempts to achieve the perfect number at a dinner party, as represented in the title. As guests drop on and off the RSVP list, her frustration grows, and she also berates her shy daughter (Lena Valenti) about the need to entice the wealthy bachelor Mom’s chosen as her seatmate. (Gerstenberg was a pioneer of the “little theater” movement in Chicago, probably best known for her play Overtones.) Finally, Anton Chekhov’s The Proposal (perhaps most popular of the four) is a silly confection in which a neurotic and hypochondriacal young man attempts to win the hand of the farmer’s daughter next door—only to find that they cannot stop arguing over who owns a slice of meadowland, and whose hunting dog is superior. (Andrew Cawley as the suitor demonstrates excellent physical comedic skills.)

Under Tony Lawry’s direction, the cast generally finds the tonal shifts between the pieces. The Wilder and Chekhov selections are easily the standouts, but for anyone with an interest in theater history, the 90-minute show provides an opportunity to delve into lesser-known works.