'Reservations' tidbits are largely satisfying

December 10, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Anyone who's ever indulged in the practice of eavesdropping at a restaurant will feel right at home at "Reservations," the latest collection of short works by the Women's Project at Theatre Project.

Thanks to its central concept of 10- to 15-minute playlets set in a restaurant, the show is more unified than previous presentations by this local group of female theater artists. Binnie Ritchie Holum and Linda Chambers -- the show's co-directors as well as two of its six playwrights -- then spliced the final seven scripts together into a production that intercuts between them.

The effect is a little like taking one from column A, one from column B, etc. Though since the plays differ in tone, style and subject matter, the juxtaposition isn't always smooth.

Overall, however, the evening offers slices of life that are, variously, entertaining, recognizable, amusing and touching.

In Holum's "Desserts," three church committee members at a table discuss ministerial candidates, none of whom proves pure enough to survive their numerous prejudices. Joan Weber is especially funny as a committee member who follows up her rich creme brulee dessert with a "fat-burning" pill that makes her increasingly frenetic.

Chambers contributed two pieces, one serious, the other not. In the serious piece, a father introduces his grown daughter to his latest girlfriend. Jodie Calvert is effectively irritating as the daughter, who begins almost every sentence with the words, "My therapist says " But this spoiled therapy junkie meets her match in Bethany Brown's portrayal of daddy's outspoken date. Both women want something from dear old dad (played by James Curran as a gentle peacemaker) and, in the end, both get it.

"Eating Out," Chambers' other piece, is the evening's comic high point, thanks in large part to Holum's hilarious portrayal of a nymphomaniac on a date. Her character repeatedly steps out of the scene to reveal what she's really thinking -- thoughts that prompt her realization that she has turned into all the lecherous guys she hated in college.

Although Chambers' and Holum's work (as writers and directors) dominates the evening, the production also includes a touching little piece by Jo Sack about a recent widow and a man who mistakes her for the date he has been set up with by a dating service.

"It'll Do a Body Good," by Kimberley Lynne, starts out as an extended joke about the dangers of drinking milk but gains a bit of depth as it establishes a relationship between its two characters, a lawyer and a crony of her late father.

"Table for One," Barbara Gehring's sketch about a woman who's stood up, is essentially a one-note piece. But in this patchwork format, one note can be sufficient.

The production's most overt effort to be profound, Denise A. Gantt's "Hunger," also serves as a motif linking the rest of the action. The playlet's three characters act as a kind of Greek chorus, sinuously moving between tables, clapping their hands to start or stop a scene and occasionally commenting.

Their presence is at times distracting; in "Appetizers," for example, one silent chorus member inexplicably sits under the table. The text of "Hunger" is a greater problem, however. Poetically -- and cursorily -- exploring issues as big as life and death, the writing is far too stylistically dissimilar from the evening's more naturalistic pieces for a production that, in other respects, delivers an interesting and more cohesive smorgasbord.


Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $14

Call: 410-752-8558

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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