The Russell Street Theater
116 NE Russell Blvd, 232-4382
Fri-Sat, 10:30 pm through July 1, $8

Of the four show plays that comprise An Evening with Alan Ball, "Made for a Woman" lasts 15 minutes, "Power Lunch" takes up 40 minutes, "Your Mother's Butt" is 15 minutes long, and "Bachelor Holliday" lasts 3 minutes. I go into detail about duration because, unlike movies, plays don't have official running times, and all too often one desperately needs to know how much longer a play is going to last, especially when the minutes pass like days, as they do in this amateurish production.

Certainly it was a cunning move for Call In Sick Productions to capitalize on the fame, minor though it must be for a mere writer, of Alan Ball, the former sitcom scribe turned Oscar winner for American Beauty. Unfortunately, Ball's plays aren't very good. His writing is obvious, thin, and unfunny. Take "Made for a Woman." Its two characters are vain, vapid, and modern narcissists ("You make me feel really important when we're seen together in public," says one character to the other). Pretty predictable stuff, really. But then, after jokes about consumerism, the female character inexplicably and without much set up, pulls out a special make of gun, which is what the title is referring to, and starts shooting people outside her window, apparently because her neighbors are not as special as she is. Jules Feiffer's Little Murders did this sort of social satire much better 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, the presentation of this skit is indicative of the whole evening. The blocking by director Kenneth Johnson is static when it isn't bustling with distracting aimlessness, and the actors (Michele Patch and Jefferson Davis) talk too fast. And though the verve of the production's 11 performers is admirable, most of them either don't speak clearly enough or don't seem to understand what tone the words they are saying demands. The evening has a high schoolish feel--the youngish cast members come across as if they are playing up to characters who are actually much older. They are rarely convincing. Good as she might be otherwise, Nicole Turley, for example, makes for an unlikely psychiatrist. And when the cast members are playing to their age, as in the last skit, they are mostly unconvincing there, too.

Though the zest with which this troupe tackles these texts is endearing, ultimately the problem with the evening is the material itself. In the phantasmagoric "Power Lunch," the program proclaims, "the line between sexual identities has been blessedly blurred," although what that means exactly is also blurred. Despite his proselytizing ambitions, Ball doesn't have anything particularly interesting to say about our apparently liberatingly "blurred" sexual identities, nor does he have anything funny to say about this state of affairs. So the characters in "Power Lunch" run around, trade partners, exchange genders, and generally look like they're having a ball. The only people not having a ball with Ball's stale antics are sitting glumly in the audience.

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