Just like tapas-style dining and gourmet tasting menus, one-act plays are a hot thing right now. Ed Giron is in the midst of the zeitgeist with Carpinteria’s Plaza Playhouse Theater’s current offering, Connected, an evening of his own original one-acts. The subject matter and tone are delightfully varied, and there is a deep current of heart, wit and compassion running through them all.
The energy is high from the start, with George Coe and Joseph Beck starring in “Slippery Slope.” Beck also directed this funny little gem, in which a rainy day finds two men stuck in the mud on an unknown country road. The dialogue is snappy and real, and these two have great comic chemistry together. The bit with the ringtones alone is worth the price of admission. Nilo Fanucchi appears as the mystical figure who is their only hope for rescue.
“The One and the Other,” directed by Robert Sanchez, dramatically shifts the tone from comedy, but is ironically similar in logistics, with two enemy soldiers lost and alone in unknown territory. Josh Lampert and Waldo Damaso-Figueroa handle this intense material well, illuminating nuances that reveal the real people underneath the clashing uniforms.
Ivy Vahanian and Jerry Oshinsky co-direct “Reservations,” in which a couple, Coe and Erika Leachman, meet for dinner at a restaurant. Their evening becomes confusing, however, when Morris Danhi and Julie Allen appear. The surreal element works well to underscore the human emotions at play, with a very touching final moment.
In “The Fastest Way To a Woman’s Heart,” a man and woman, Ryan Phillips and Aden Hailu, discover as much about themselves as they do about each other on a first date. Ghislaine Sopher-Phillips directs this quirky, imaginative vignette in which traditional roles and reasonable expectations are challenged. Phillips has great comic delivery and Hailu is sweetly earnest as they bring matters to a pleasing conclusion.
Coe appears again in the title role of “Noel ... Coward!” along with Mila Wizel, directed by Giron himself. This is perhaps the most masterful piece of the evening, as skillful storytelling is used to build suspense and curiosity, and then in a moment to finally make all heartbreakingly clear. Coe, a strong actor, especially shines here. He has the timeless quality of another era, perhaps a little Jimmy Stewart-ish, but with a sardonic edge. Wizel, timeless as well, is elegant, tender and sharp in her portrayal of the woman in his life.
An entertaining bonus is Gene Garcia, dapper in white dinner jacket and gloves, who makes the set changes, onstage in full view and with great flair. Opening night, he even treated the audience to a song at the transition between intermission and the second half.
Giron and all the directors and actors have truly created an appetizing theatrical buffet of many flavors — a little of this, little of that, all rich and satisfying. Sample this feast while it’s still on the table, and see why many cooks in the kitchen is not necessarily a bad thing.
Remaining performances of Connected are 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday and April 4-6 at the Plaza Playhouse Theater, 4916 Carpinteria Ave.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.