With its couches, arm chairs, lounges and table lamps, the cozy transformation of the theatre into a “speak-easy” makes the space seem more like an intellectual soirée than a bar, even though there is a bartender in the form Bruce Dickinson dispensing beer and wine at the top of the stairs. The arrangement is a sign that Open Fist’s third annual show of ten-minute (more or less) political “pop-up” plays is back. The setting is comfortable; the tenor of the playlets is not. The evening is bitter, angsty, and darkly humorous; a theatrical cri de coeur. Given the current state of the nation and the world, the performance fits the times, sadly.
Two large, color photographs on easels upstage right and left greet the audience upon entering the auditorium. A placid, composed Barak Obama contrasts with an open-mouthed, ranting Donald Trump. Between these two stark representations, Lane Allison kicks off the evening with American Hamlet, a bitter recitation of Hamlet’s famous speech from Act III, scene iv, wherein the prince upbraids his mother, Gertrude, for marrying his uncle, the louche murderer, Claudius. The key phrase:
Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
What follows runs the gamut of concerns.
A Dream of Two Moons by Dorothea Cahan, directed by Laura James, presents two women, a mother (Becca Cousineau) and a mother-to-be (Lori Gambero), coping in a world so infested with guns that children are armored and decamping to Mars seems a reasonable option.
An Awful Waste of Space by Natalie Zutter, directed by Christopher Cedeño, takes place in Puerto Rico in the days after Hurricane Maria. A rogue park ranger (Kenia Romero) at SETI’s (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) abandoned Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico makes first contact with an extraterrestrial diplomat (Sherry Larson).
Electric Eye by Timothy Mooney; directed by Jan Munroe — This is an hilarious kind of a masculine nightmare. A man (Phillip William Brock) in a men’s restroom muses on the self-flushing urinal, and soon expands his paranoia to the self-flushing toilets (patented on January 16, 1979), the automatic faucets (that sometimes refuse to dispense water until one walks away), and then goes onto the ubiquitous presence of cameras, leading to the decline of Western Civilization.
How Are We Doing by Jessica Moss; directed by Michael Steinbach — Four friends (Lane Allison, David Shofner, Dylan Maddalena and Chloe Berlinger) indulge in ear-piercing, raucous kvetching on the generalized situation of everything in a world where nothing is okay, the question, “How are we doing?” driving one of them into dangerous hyperventilating.
Inheritance by EH Sanders; directed by Rod Menzies — A mature European-American woman (Judith Scarpone) wrestles with uncomfortable truths when she discovers that she shares a great-great grandfather with a young African-American man (Steven Royce).
Pandemonium by Bara Swain; directed by Amanda Weier — An adorable young couple expecting their first child (Stephanie Crothers and Bryan Bertone) find themselves suddenly overwhelmed by the statistics on traffic accidents, the challenges of installing a car seat, and the imperative of finding the right name for their daughter.
The Protest by James William Evans, directed by Derek Manson — Two penguins, Fred (Dylan Maddalena) and Sam (Neil Oktay) bash their heads into the transparent wall of an aquarium in a righteous protest over their food. They want salmon!
Toppers by Brett Hursey, directed by Christopher Cappiello — A firefighter (Megumi Smisson) who carried a baker (Rod Menzies) to safety, later returns to challenge him over his refusal to bake her wife a wedding cake.
Depending on the evening, an audience might see High School Intifada by Cary Gitter, directed by Christopher Cappiello, with David Shofner and Caroline Klidonas; Heart Attack Zack, written and directed by Amanda Weier, with Dionna Veremis, Brittany Lauren Brown, and Ann Marie Wilding; or Unquiet American Dreams by Jaisey Bates, directed by Laura James, with Katie May Porter.
Curated by Christopher Cappiello, Martha Demson, Beth Robbins, Barbara Schofield and Amanda Weier, What Matters Now?/! boasts the talents of Bruce Dickinson, theatre design and decoration; lighting design by Ellen Monocroussos; sound design by Tim Labor; poster art by LiamCarl.com; and stage management by Amy Rowell.
Produced by the Ensemble of the Open Fist Theatre Company, What Matters Now?/! extends through April 13 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue in Los Angeles.