“An Evening of One Acts” at ACT

Director R. Hamilton Wright offers us three one act plays by three great contemporary writers, and I defy you not to find something to like here.

Steve Martin’s “Patter for a Floating Lady” and Woody Allen’s “Riverside Drive” reflect on the love life of both writers. They are certainly not autobiographical, but the manner in which they address those most basic human emotions—love and lust—suggest personal experience.

They make up the first act of this three-play presentation, and by the time they are completed you will be weak from the bombardment of merciless humor. I can’t remember when I have heard an audience laugh so hard and so continuously.

Steve Martin presents a cocky magician (David Foubert) who promises to levitate his incredibly attractive assistant (Jessica Skerritt). He’s all exaggerated gestures, pomposity, and hyperbole as he waves his magic wand and places her on the bench that he’ll cause to lift into the air. He tries mightily and with incredible ineptitude to reignite the spark he presumed existed between them. But sometimes lovers are just too dense, make just too many demands. His failure is both poignant and hilarious.

ACT-AnEveningOfOneActs-RiversideDrive - Eric Ray Anderson and Chris Ensweiler and Jessica Skerritt_thumb

Eric Ray Anderson, Chris Ensweiler, and Jessica Skerritt “Riverside Drive”
Photo: Chris Bennion

Woody Allen takes us to a walkway along the Hudson River on the Westside of his beloved Manhattan. There Jim, an insecure, neurotic writer à la Allen himself (played wonderfully by Chris Ensweiler) encounters a crazed street person (played marvelously by Eric Ray Anderson) who claims, not only to know Jim, but to have collaborated with him on all his work.

Jim denying any connection with this crazy person gradually falls completely under his spell. Embedded in their looney conversations are sophisticated references to philosophy and literature. The apparently deranged street person spouts intellectual jargon and offers marriage counseling and bizarre problem solving for the Woody Allen character who becomes all the more vulnerable when his fetching, gum chewing mistress (Jessica Skerritt) shows up. The deeper he falls into the mad reality of the street person, the funnier it all becomes. Only Woody Allen can weave such a spell.

Sam Shepard’s “The Unseen Hand” offered as the second act tries hard, but its humor seemed a poor vehicle for Shepard’s deeply hidden philosophical wanderings. Out in the vast empty spaces of the southwest three old-time desperados, two brought back to life by an alien from another galaxy, are asked for their help in saving the alien people. They’re not quite up to it, but an unfortunate high school student who comes across this scene offers quite a paean to good old American values.

Two winners and one also ran! It would be nice if all three of these plays were terrific, but the two that are make the evening more than worthwhile.

Through August 17, “An Evening of One Acts” at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org)

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