Someone at defunkt theatre had a clever idea: present two stylistically different one-act plays with roughly similar themes, emphasize said stylistic differences, and in so doing, compel a comparison between the works that serves to reinforce the thematic connections. Sam Shepard's absurdist Fourteen Hundred Thousand is thus juxtaposed with the gritty realism of Maria Irene Fornes' Mud.
Fourteen Hundred Thousand describes the efforts of a husband and wife to build a bookshelf. The husband maintains that books, once read, may as well be discarded; the wife is passionately attached to her collection). The fundamental instability of both the bookshelf and their relationship presumably comments on how experience and communities are intertwined.
Mud is set in a one-room shack, where a young woman, Mae, lives with an illiterate, mildly retarded man named Lloyd. Mae's got big dreams, and she's trying to pull herself out of the "mud" of her fairly sordid existence by going to school and learning to read. When she meets Henry, she falls for him because she mistakes his book smarts for purity of spirit. Henry moves in, Lloyd gets jealous, and things go downhill pretty fast.
Pairing the high falutin' braininess of the Shepard piece with Fornes' visceral tale of redneck desperation was an inspired decision, but defunkt's execution doesn't quite do the concept justice. Ideally, the self-conscious intellectualism of Fourteen Hundred Thousand would highlight and reinforce Mud's simplicity, and vice versa. Instead, Fourteen feels strident and rushed, while the lighting technique used in Mud--flooding the stage with light as characters freeze between scenes, snapshot style--lends the whole piece a manipulative quality that undermines the "gritty realism" we talked about earlier. While both casts are certainly competent, there's a slapdash quality to the production as a whole that suggests another week or two in rehearsal might've helped. There's not much room for error when it comes to one-acts--either you have your audience at hello, or you'll never have them. defunkt, unfortunately, never quite had me--twice.