Theatre a la Carte has something for everyone

Cuillo Centre for the Arts, 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach.561-835-9226.Directed by Bob Carter.

A dimly lit restaurant in Chelsea, New York, sets the stage for Theatre a la Carte, a series of one-act plays directed by famed South Florida director Bob Carter. The restaurant serves as the setting for four wonderfully constructed vignettes concerning the stories of several New Yorkers.

“Physical Therapy” by Jean Reynolds is about two retired ladies, Beulah (Marilyn Hamilton) and Sadie (Nina Derman), who are polar opposites in their thinking. The conservative and seemingly closed-minded Sadie seems to be bored in her older age, until Beulah, a flighty and funny woman, tells her that she often receives massages from a handsome physical therapist.

“Dinner and Destiny” by Dennis Jones sports a funny and fresh look at the “what the future holds” for two lovers. Mark (Nathan Stubbs) and Donna (Kathleen Kenny) are immediately smitten with each other on their first date. They share their fantasies of how they might live their lives if they actually married each other. The result is hilarity in an anything but perfect scenario.

In “39, 21, 50” by Max Riley you’ll find a heartbreakingly funny play concerning the lives of four ladies sitting opposite of each other. Joan (Paula Sackett), flamboyant, outspoken and fierce, whimsically fantasizes about past romances while gal-pal Susie (Jeanne Di Liddo) prattles on about an upcoming facelift. Meanwhile, Trish (C. Lucrece Vojtas), an executive, talks about the regrets of becoming older to an ambitious and career-climbing employee (Allison Webber) who wants to grow up too fast.

“Anything For You” by Cathy Celesia concerns two friends, Gail (Lori Chism) and Lynette (Kathleen Kenny), who meet for lunch, only to discover their lifelong secrets and true feelings for one another.

Getting off to a poor start, Hamilton and Derman seemed to be lost in their roles. Rather than showing comic hyperactivity, they tended to flub through the dialogue, appearing almost confused, perhaps lacking the ability to absorb their characters to the hilt. This problem may lie with Carter’s direction, which was tedious and dry in this particular act. “Physical Therapy” might have benefited from some snappy dialogue that could have left the audience gripping their sides with laughter.

Carter’s direction of the materials presented in the overall production is mostly well paced, although at times it feels uneven. The last three acts excel in conveying their characters’ desires and revelations, and the actors who are in the hearts of the characters do a remarkably subtle job of capturing the true essence of who they are supposed to be playing.

Especially worth noting is Miss Sackett’s portrayal of Joan in the third act. She artfully flutters into manic dismay and regret in a matter of seconds when she finds out something unexpected, or she can become hurtful without using her voice, but through subtle facial expressions. Her audience gets the chance to absorb the character’s regrets and disappointments without forceful vocal expression taking charge.

Despite the first act’s shortcomings, the production’s technicality was clever in its use of a single setting to enact all four plays.

However, the lighting could have been enhanced in every vignette when different emotions were being conveyed, instead of remaining mired in monotonous colors.

This production is well achieved, while uneven in direction. The payoff lies in some grand performances out of three well-directed vignettes. A la carte indeed!