Marilyn Gilbert and Nathan Rundlett in<em> Alas, Poor Fred</em>.

Courtesy Photo

Marilyn Gilbert and Nathan Rundlett in Alas, Poor Fred.

Three One-Act Comedies

At Center Stage Theater, Friday, August 24.

The group of performers that has coalesced around director and actor Ed Giron’s various projects has talent and an aptitude for comedy, and this night of one-act comedies may be the best thing the group has done yet. The first piece on the program, Sure Thing by David Ives, uses a simple device-the ringing of a bell-to stop and reset the conversation between Bill (Geren Piltz) and Betty (Jennifer Gimblin). Every time one of the two characters derails the budding relationship, the bell rings and they start over from approximately where they left off. The humor comes from the unsuccessful pickup lines and conversational gambits, and from the pacing, which was spot-on in this production.

Next, Giron and Deborah Helm took on Ives’s The Universal Language. This piece, set in the shady office of a man who claims to be teaching “Unamunda” (the universal language), is one of Ives’s most effective and imaginative works. It takes a real idea-there have been several attempts to create such a language-and plays with it in a truly Joycean fashion, delighting in witty, fast-paced puns and homonyms la Finnegans Wake. Giron and Helm were terrific; Helm did a particularly good job showing the gradual transformation of her character, Dawn, from a stuttering wallflower to a passionate, articulate, and independent woman. The comedy was sizzling here, but the theme-that language is the opposite of loneliness-was serious and effective.

Finally, Marilyn Gilbert and Nathan Rundlett reprised their performances as Ethel and Ernest Pringle in the great Theatre of the Absurd classic, Alas, Poor Fred, by James Saunders. The piece traces the course of a “typical evening” in the Pringle living room, but the stories that emerge are anything but typical. There are layers upon layers of meaning in this play, and Gilbert and Rundlett were both marvelous at bringing them out. Alas, Poor Fred plays like a great piece of chamber music, with themes and variations coming and going until the last notes are struck. Santa Barbara is fortunate to have two such gifted interpreters capable of showing every nuance.

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