[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]
The idea of the 10-minute play has an intrinsic appeal to anyone who has experienced posterior numbness past the two-and-a-half-hour mark in a theater seat. But the gimmick also has very obvious limitations. The play is extremely short, for one. It is a smart decision, then, that Love, Laundry & Theoretical Physics, staged by the Original Theatre Company, presents six short works that revolve around can't-miss themes: adultery, seduction, nudity, and unspeakable offstage carnage.
But the urge to go easy on the hindquarters doesn't always mean satisfying the forebrain. The opening play, "Quarks," sees a traveling computer salesman (Eric Webster) attempt to seduce a beautiful physicist (Angela Dalton) in a bar. While the actors evince a nice, easy chemistry, Dalton is called upon to recite a batch of scientific silliness that made me wish writer William Borden had gotten wind of my proposed moratorium on using quantum physics as a metaphor for life. I'm as interested as the next guy in the prospect of our 4-D universe floating in a ten-dimensional super-construct, but getting from that to Eugene O'Neill, or even David E. Kelley, has resulted in enough dramatic shipwrecks for now.
Sam Post has better luck with his "Love Poem," a slight little thing about two young people grappling with responsibility and romance. (Webster and Dalton again turn in appealing performances.) Post also writes "Ignition Switch," a barbed vignette that takes place in a repair shop's waiting room. A laconic mechanic (Patrick Coyle, who directs all six shorts) offers impromptu carpal-tunnel advice to a brittle wife (Helen Chorolec) who, we soon discover, is on the verge of applying emotional dynamite to her life. Post's dialogue is clipped and funny: This is the work one can most imagine stretching into the dimensions of a full-length drama.
Not that that's the only goal at work here, of course. Lily Baber Coyle's "Homeland Security" puts Chorolec and Webster in the airport security line for something ominously called Bare Air. They proceed to make small talk until, we realize, we are in a near future in which strip searches are de rigueur for boarding that commuter flight to Chicago. The idea is funny as far as it goes, which is approximately 10 minutes.
Something more meaty emerges from Sheri Wilner's fascinating "Little Death of a Salesman," which applies a Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead treatment to Arthur Miller. Chorolec plays Willy Loman's mistress waiting for him in a hotel out there on the American road, not knowing that her lover has been written out of the story. She grows increasingly panicked with a nonplussed desk clerk (Coyle) until the script teases out memories of Willy's affair and its squirm-inducing end—Coyle slips into the role of Willy at one point, to pleasingly creepy effect.
Though stilted in its performance, "Little Death" hints at the possibilities of the form: Economical dialogue, blazing pace, and a high-speed story arc. No less well-crafted is Stan Peal's "Interrupted," which finds a couple showing up at their friends' house unannounced. The homeowners inside are participating in a private moment, though not of the sort that first comes to mind: Coyle and Chorolec have a secret in their bathroom that makes Dalton erupt in shrieks and sends Webster to the toilet to download his lunch. (Or maybe "upload" is the right word for it.)
Of course we never learn the details of the horror in the bathroom, nor should we—nothing this low-budget show could produce could match Dalton's look of repulsion and horror when she returns from seeing it. It ends the night on a high note, appropriate in a program that asks its audience merely to absorb a series of scenarios without investing too heavily in them. With the amount of time you've devoted to reading this article, you could have digested a complete and original work of contemporary American theater. To make it any easier, they'd have to stage it in your living room.
Correction published 7/1//2006:
In the review of Love, Laundry and Theoretical Physics, the name of Stan Peal was incorrectly identified as Stan Paul. The above version of the story reflects the corrected text. City Pages regrets the error.