Tom Haig and Sarah Whelan argue gently in Robert Anderson's I'm Herbert, the closing piece of Shorts on the 2nd Floor.
Madison Theatre Guild's Shorts on the 2nd Floor is an entertaining evening of seven short plays -- some ridiculous, some poignant, and several in between -- from a combination of unknown and iconic playwrights (through May 3 at the Bartell Theatre's Drury Stage). Although the pieces don't coalesce around an obvious theme, they are well-executed snapshots of characters at a point of revelation.
Shorts begins with a cynical lesson on the origins of the word "theater," courtesy of Christopher Durang. Like a confused English teacher, Mrs. Sorken (Peggy Rosin), the protagonist of his eponymous play, charts the etymology and decline of the art form, from the audience's communal cathartic release in ancient times to mild seasickness and irritation in the modern world. She does all she can with the satirical in-joke and then implores us to enjoy the show.
Tennessee Williams has two pieces on the bill: The Lady of Larkspur Lotion and A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot. In Larkspur, a delusional woman and an alcohol-soaked writer share their dysfunction and longing for a fantasy life better than the one they're living in a rundown New Orleans boarding house. In Parrot, two fading Southern belles (nicely played by Kelly Fitzgerald and Judy Kimball) confront their emotional desperation and their physical shortcomings in a seedy bar while attending a Shriners-esque convention out of town. All of these characters would be right at home in Williams' other works, but the pieces seem more like writing exercises than fully developed short plays.
David Ives also has a pair of pieces in the program, Sure Thing and The Philadelphia. In Sure Thing, one couple has dozens of chances to say just the right thing to make a first date turn out right. Well paced and entertaining, the play's witty setup pays off at the end. The Philadelphia introduces us to a pair of friends who are similarly caught in linguistic loops, frequently getting the opposite of what they ask for. Mark (Jason Compton) and the waitress (Kelly Allen) do an admirable job of handling the strange shifts in vocabulary and meaning.
Adding a touch of the absurd is Gregory Hischak's delightful Hygiene, which focuses on young Wendy (Vimala Grace Hile), who brings home a bizarre parasite from her grade-school music class: a minimalist composer. This proves to be even more vexing to Wendy's bickering parents (perfectly portrayed by Judy Kimball and Lee Waldhart) than the mime that the girl had stuck to her foot on a camping trip the previous summer.
The real highlight of the evening is the closing piece, I'm Herbert by Robert Anderson. Seated on rocking chairs, an elderly couple (Tom Haig and Sarah Whelan) argue gently as their memories of past spouses, romances, travels and other events fade in and out. Haig stated in the program that, at 93 years old, this may be his last show. Don't miss the chance to see his delightful performance.