Pulp Theater Sardonis Productions Disjecta, 116 NE Russell St

The fun of pulp is in the intrigue; the layers of plot twists. Trying to cram it into a 30-minute one-act is exceedingly difficult. Back story is crucial, but the one-act format leaves no room for back story to unfold naturally; it must be stuffed awkwardly into the dialogue, a direct violation of the "show, don't tell" principle of good theater.

For an example of this phenomenon, look no farther than Conspiracy of Dreams, part two of Sardonis' Pulp Theater, a series of three pulp-influenced one-acts. In Dreams, Nina (Nicolle L. Nixon), is trapped in a relationship with dangerous revolutionary, Victor (Patrick J. Fitzgibbons). Her world is thrown askew when she is given an escape opportunity by an insurance salesman, Walter (Ian S. Mullen), who wants to run away with her. This is an intriguing premise ruined by long bouts of boring expositional dialogue between Walter and Nina. The entire history of their relationship must be explained for the inevitable plot twist to have any sense of import. When the twist occurs, the ensuing action sequence is not sufficient payback for the laborious conversation that leads up to it.

All three one-acts are mired in exposition, though the other two, The Carnie and Anchorwoman, fare slightly better than Dreams. Carnie stars Drew Barrios as a man hiding from his troubled past with a traveling carnival. He gets entangled with the carnival's fortune teller and the Bearded Lady, two women who end up being more trouble than they're worth. Here, the back story is revealed with a bit more flair.

The plot of Anchorwoman, the show's finale, is so convoluted that the one-act format can't even contain it. Something about a couple conning a hit man by manipulating his image in a television interview. Or maybe it's something else. It's incomprehensible either way, though Anchorwoman is still the most riveting of the three, thanks to energetic performances from Max Blonde and Andrea Royse as the conniving couple.

Convoluted plots are what make the pulp genre fun, but only when we can watch them unfold. Seeing murders, betrayals, and scandalous affairs is titillating. Hearing about them secondhand is not. JUSTIN SANDERS