Power Plays. At Victoria Hall Theater, Thursday, December 14.
Reviewed by Elena Gray-Blanc
Power Plays, the fifth installment in Victoria Hall Theater’s Theatrical Treats series, was all about sex — subtly and with unexpected depth in the first of Elaine May’s one-acts, The Way of All Fish, and perhaps too blatantly in the farce In and Out of the Light.
The Way of All Fish follows two women through an evening of accidental companionship. Ms. Asquith (Leslie Gangl Howe), an executive, makes an uncharacteristic attempt to have a personal conversation with her secretary, Miss Riverton (Deborah Helm), and discovers, to her shock, that her timid subordinate aspires to find everlasting fame by murdering a celebrity. Miss Riverton has finally given up on killing an A-lister, however, and intends to be satisfied with someone merely wealthy and influential. The rich and well-connected Ms. Asquith, in fear for her life, temporarily becomes subject to Miss Riverton’s whims, reversing their dynamic.
The speech in which Miss Riverton describes her fantasy of being the next John Wilkes Booth was a highlight, and could stand alone as a monologue. Katie Laris’s direction had Helm pushing closer and closer to Howe, dominating her personal space as she invaded her psychological territory. Laris also allowed Helm and Howe to play up the sexual tension inherent in their characters’ relationship, an effect that was enhanced by Ms. Asquith’s more traditionally masculine, power-oriented outlook. Although by the end of the play Ms. Asquith reclaims her dominant status, there are enough twists and turns to make the outcome suspenseful.
Unfortunately, such shifting dynamics were mainly absent from In and Out of the Light, the story of a dentist (Jerry Oshinsky) attempting to make it with his hygienist (Destiny Hitchcock), a blowsy ex-porn actress. Although In and Out was peppered with the same Wildean one-liners as Fish, it was something of a one-note joke. The most amusing gag was a panicked dental patient (Tiffany Story) who narrated her stress level, from one to 10, into a handheld voice recorder. At one point, she reached 30 on her scale of one to 10. Although this performance didn’t hit quite that high on my scale, it certainly made me want to see Victoria Hall’s next offering, coming up in January.