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Out of Gas

Mobtown in Spring's Four Cylinders Sputter

Cheryl Skafte and Carlos Del Valle search for parking in Mobtown in Spring.

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 4/18/2001

Mobtown in Spring: A Night of Dysfunctional One-Acts

Allan Dale III, Juliet Johnson, and Reade Whinnem

Although it seems reasonable to expect a hit-or-miss evening with any compilation of one-act plays, it's disheartening that almost everything misses in the quartet of locally written playlets produced by Mobtown Players under the collective title Mobtown in Spring: A Night of Dysfunctional One-Acts. That title proves to be unintentionally prophetic--three of these "dysfunctional one-acts" turn out to be just that.

One of the mini-plays has real emotional merit, and the others provide sporadic absurdist laughs, but this is a generally mirthless and pointless evening at Fells Point Corner Theatre. Too often, the playwrights come up with a wacky premise and then don't know quite what to do with it.

Juliet Johnson wrote two of the one-acts, both of them auto-related stories that stall. Stand by Your Car features Yvette Ebb and Adam Rosenberg as a twentysomething couple who just met at a Calvert Street nightclub and have now gone back to her apartment. The problem is, they're not alone. They encounter two men (Todd Krickler and Richard Peck) who look perfectly normal, yet the former claims to be the spirit of a car the woman once owned and the latter claims to be the spirit of a car the man once owned. Also appearing is a woman (Pamela Feldman) who claims to be the man's now-deceased cat. When the confused man says, "I don't think I understand this," you want to chime in with an "amen."

Johnson's intention presumably is to show how cars, pets, and other possessions in our lives make claims of their own and make it hard to move on to new and meaningful relationships with our fellow human beings. However, this goofy playlet comes off as dumb-dumb rather than funny-dumb. Even if you can suspend disbelief and accept its fantastic premise, its treatment of metaphysical and interpersonal issues during the 20-minute running time is less sophisticated than in the mid-'60s sitcom My Mother the Car.

Johnson also wrote the car-themed Place to Park, in which Carlos del Valle and Cheryl Skafte sit in the front seat of a vehicle, bantering about their search for a parking space, their car talk obviously a metaphor for their relationship. This is a valid point of departure for a mini-play, but Johnson's character development seems sketchy during this 15-minute drive.

Reade Whinnem's The Photo, or Ten Years Since Puberty benefits from a 40-minute running time, which allows for more exposition. Del Valle, giving his second energetic performance of the evening, portrays a man whose unsatisfying romantic track record is aired for the audience. A disembodied female voice (Feldman) relentlessly, even prosecutorially probes his flaws, foibles, and needs. In a Fellini-esque dream sequence, this troubled man is visited by an assortment of women, whose intense physicality is in marked contrast to the disembodied voice.

Having characters refer to script pages and also directly interact with audience members are among the self-reflexive moves, but the play fools around in a rather fast and loose way with its theater-about-theater tactics. The Photo is full of heavy-handed metaphorical touches (such as having the man drag around metal chains adorned with hubcaps) that foster the car references that run through all the plays, for no apparent reason.for no apparent reason through all the plays .

Motor vehicles also get mentioned in Allan Dale III's Aces and Eights, but that's about the only thing this 45-minute play has in common with the others. It's the most conventionally realistic of the quartet, and the most accomplished. Carol Oles portrays a painter who has relocated to the Southwestern desert, and Brian Irons is a rodeo cowboy whose surprise appearance at her isolated house may rekindle a past romance. Aspects of their relationship and, for that matter, aspects of her artistic career would benefit from a more detailed exploration, but there is a sound sense of character here. The pacing is too slow, but the mostly solid writing and the consistently engaging performances make for the one winner in a mostly lost night of theater.

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