You might think of Israel Horovitz's plays as the bookends of the current Baltimore theater season. The Mechanic Theatre launched its line-up with the pre-Broadway run of "Park Your Car in Harvard Yard," and now a fledgling troupe called the Acting Workshop has revived the playwright's 1967 New York debut, "Line."
"Park Your Car" is about a mean-spirited retired teacher who unwittingly hires one of his former students as a housekeeper; "Line" is a raw 1960s look at five people jockeying for position in line.
On the surface, these plays have little in common, but there is a connection. Power is a central theme in both. In fact, it is basically the only theme in "Line," a one-act drama that demonstrates how the drive to be No. 1 one brings out the worst in people. The characters don't even know what they're waiting for; they just want to be first. (And, ugly though this impulse may be, the play will strike a chord with anyone who's ever been stuck in the back of a line and harbored a secret desire to shove everyone else out of the way.)
Mounting rarely produced scripts is one of the goals of the Acting Workshop, and "Line's" minimal technical demands make ideal for this local touring troupe, which is performing in settings as diverse as art galleries and auditoriums -- and rarely in the same place two nights in a row. Under these conditions, a simple set is an advantage, and you don't get much simpler than a strip of white tape representing a line.
"Line" isn't simple to perform, however. For starters, five actors standing in a row is hardly the most dynamic arrangement. Still, director Christian Garretson keeps things lively, choreographing the action like a slick, giant shell game.
The play also has a tricky tone -- a little absurd, a little farcical and a lot allegorical. To put this across, the actors have to be deadly serious. On opening night, Donald Koch, who plays a wimp, and Kimberley Lynne, as his sex-crazed wife, both needed to overcome a tendency to be self-consciously funny. But Vince Kimball remained thoroughly in character as a shifty businessman, and Tom Cloherty seemed convincingly crazed as Mozart fanatic distraught at the notion of living longer than his beloved composer.
Garretson begins the evening with a 10-minute curtain-raiser called "Happy Ending," by local playwright Kenneth Hoke-Witherspoon. This slight but amusing playlet is also about a power game -- one in which the characters vie to be the most miserable. It's such a fitting companion piece, it seems tailor made.
The combination of an unconventional production and an unconventional performance schedule is a risky way to inaugurate a company, but this is an auspicious debut. One can only hope the Acting Workshop can establish an identity -- and a following -- without the benefit of a permanent address. In a town where new companies spring up faster than new venues, this is an admirable and creative experiment.
When: Various dates and times through May 30. Call for complete schedule. Tonight's curtain time is 8:30.
Where: Various locations. Tonight's performance is at the BAUhouse, 1713 N. Charles St.
Call: (410) 435-8671.