Pick of the Vine, Little Fish Theatre’s annual blockbuster slate of short plays, is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. This year’s selections, culled from over five hundred entries, range in length from five to fourteen minutes and run the gamut from the hysterically absurd to the wistfully poignant, evoking an audience response of raucous laughter, thoughtful reflection, and plucked heartstrings. The shows boast an excellent cast of appealing players who take on multiple roles and are smartly directed by Little Fish veterans Bill Wolski, James Rice, Marlee Delia and Holly Baker-Kreiswirth.
Immersion Therapy by David MacGregor, kicks off the evening with manic energy, in which a hyperactive wife (Rachel Levy in an enthusiastic, go-for-broke performance), is giddy with excitement over the prospect of her birthday present that her over-indulgent, energetic husband (Daniel Gallai) always provides. She goes nearly catatonic when the present turns out to be a session of immersion therapy conducted by an unusual practitioner (Perry Shields) to deal with a very particular phobia.
In Ditmas by Glenn Alterman, a blowsy thirtyish woman (smartly played by Kimberly Patterson) on a bender at a bar makes a play for a tall wisp of a guy who works as a “Genius” at a nearby Apple store (Mr. Gallai). Turns out he is a married man who was a classmate of the woman way back in elementary school. They connect in an unexpected bittersweet way that leaves the audience touched and thoughtful.
Two fast friends, one older, weak and pensive (Mary-Margaret Lewis), one young, bright and enthusiastic (Olivia Schlueter-Corey), meet in a park in Dagney Kerr’s, Stay. The older female moves slowly and painfully, while the younger one bubbles with youthful joy. An alert audience will quickly scope the individuals and the trajectory of the encounter.
It is a comic conundrum for a couple (Ms. Patterson and Mr. Shields) that gets hoist on their own petard in Most Popular by George Sauer. Blithely crashing a high school reunion that happens to be held in their hotel, they take refuge in the men’s room after being hailed as the high school’s star quarterback and head cheerleader.
Dark comedy is the provenance of The Last Word by JC Cifranic. Two mooks out of Central Casting (the comic duo of Ryan Knight and Mr. Gallai) hold pistols in readiness for the execution of a bound, gagged and kneeling victim (Mr. Shields). They have a semi-intellectual dispute over how the execution, which is inevitable, should unfold. The scene smacks of existential angst with a touch of Beckett somehow lurking in the script, grimly and deliciously played by the flexible trio of actors.
Like many, I am a huge fan of the tales of Sherlock Holmes, having read the complete tales twice as a teenager and am now listening to them all over again as an audio book. The Case of the Missing Know-It-All by Mark Saunders turns the intrepid detective (Mr. Shields) into sit-com fodder by casting the retired Holmes as a family man whose particular ways drive his wife (Mary-Margaret Lewis) and two daughters (Mses. Levy and Schlueter-Corey) to lethal distraction.
Flat Earther by Mario Rivas starts out with a lightweight discussion in a bar between a man and a woman (Mr. Knight and Ms. Patterson) about the ludicrous notions that some people adopt. They agree about the stupidity exemplified by the flat-earthers, but the conversation turns rancorous when they disagree about such things as the 9/11 attacks and the fake moon landings, which leads to a climax that is a twist in the heart.
Wishes by Mark Harvey Levine is an endearing fantasy about a gentle man (the splendid Mr. Gallai) who spends his time fishing coins out of fountains. Seems he can feel the wishes of those who toss them in. He loses his lover (Ms. Levy) when she loses patience with his pastime. Because it is a fantasy, the situation turns in a very charming way.
The final play is lovely. The Train by Irene L. Pynn is the pantomimed story of a lonely man and a single woman who spark a connection in a crowded subway car. Mr. Knight and Ms. Schlueter-Corey are utterly delightful as they reveal an ocean of emotion with only movement and expression. This capper truly sent me home happy.
The creative staff once again did wonders with Little Fish’s limited performance space. Scott Walewski’s scenic design, lit by Hector Quintero, and painted by Daryl Hogue France and Mickey France, is simplicity itself with black walls, a few drop-down panels, fly-ins, and some carried on elements. Elena Vannoni’s costumes are excellent in supporting character and action. Props are designed by Madeleine Drake and sound designer Holly Baker-Kreiswirth works her magic with a terrific playlist that entertains before the show, at intermission, and supports each play individually.
Pick of the Vine runs through February 17 at Little Fish Theatre, San Pedro’s Arts District, 777 S. Centre St. in San Pedro.