Pear Theatre has outdone itself, overall, with "Pear Slices 2019," its annual adventure into new one-act plays.
The eight plays are uneven, but what are we to expect from bits that only last from 12 to 16 minutes? They get in, deliver a few clever lines or jokes, maybe dispense a bit of meaning and get out.
What's really impressive is the cast, the seven people who play three or four roles each. They quick-change characterizations with admirable skills, and inhabit each role with as much depth as is possible in these short tales. Ray D'Ambrosio, in three roles, and Becca Gilbert, in four, are particularly impressive, bringing palpable humanity to each performance.
And the Pear is definitely moving up in terms of what it can do technically. Scenic designer Elizabeth Kruse Craig, lighting designer Meghan Souther and sound and projections designer David L. Hobbs give each play its own environment.
"Eschaton," by Douglas Rees, raises some questions about the meaning of Gabriel's famous horn. Which, as this play begins, is in a pawnshop. The very impressive Alice Highman is the very suspicious pawnshop owner Sofi, who immediately doesn't trust Nick (D'Ambrosio), who's willing to pay a lot for a beat-up old trumpet, but won't say why. Jackie O'Keefe is almost as tricky as Gabriel, and Sofi doesn't trust her, either. "I may not be omnipotent," Gabriel says, "But I can be damned annoying."
"Tick Tock Bio Clock," by Leah Halper, is a moderately cute and slightly annoying slice-of-life tale about a young woman (Gilbert) who hates going to the clinic to try again to get pregnant. "It's humiliating," she says, not to mention invasive. Daniel Zafer-Joyce is her husband, who is as supportive as he can be, but also needs to go to work.
"Collision," by Barry Slater, is a kind of 16-minute noir. A Hyundai and a BMW collide. The Hyundai driver, Marty (D'Ambrosio), is mystified by Leslie Newport Wright as Grace, who is rocking an Eastern European accent and has $100,000 in cash to help smooth things over. Marty has a problem with gambling. Grace somehow knows all about it and wants him to manipulate some line of code at his job. Bill C. Jones shows up near the end. No effective jokes or significant meaning, just a little crime story.
"Open the Door for the Stranger," by Elyce Melmon, is another tale with biblical references on its mind. Highman is a young woman seeking the advice of her mother, played by a barefoot O'Keefe, preparing for a Seder. Both are delightful in this pretty little story. When Zafer-Joyce shows up as the young woman's new beau, she tells him she wants him to meet her mother.
"Mothers of the Bride," by Meghan Maugeri, gets a lot done in its 12 minutes. Gilbert is Hanna, who is trying on wedding dresses with the advice of her bitter mother, Kristy (O'Keefe), and endlessly positive step-mom, Beth (Newport). The mystery becomes, why is mom so dead-set against Hanna getting married? Beth figures it out.
"The Supreme Question," by V. B. Leghorn, puts Jones behind a podium as the A.I. judge and jury of all things, as Gilbert tries to make a moral decision about an old case involving her family's property. "God knows everything," Jones intones, "and so do I." It's a little question-raiser about, among other things, the power artificial intelligence might someday wield, and the crazy balancing act required in moral judgments. "I am always black and white," says Jones' robot. "The justice system is not."
"Mister The Bear," by Bridgette Dutta Portman, is a powerful 12 minutes with D'Ambrosio as Brian, who is being bugged by his little sister Cara, played brilliantly by Gilbert. He wants to get on with his life, but she keeps pressing him to fix "Mister The Bear," whose ear flap is torn. At first, he just seems like any self-important big brother, and she seems like any pig-tailed, goofy little girl. But there is a huge family tragedy to uncover, and this one-act is very moving.
"Deuce Cooper: Pier Pressure," by clever Paul Braverman, is a very funny collection of jokes and wordplay loosely making fun of 1940s spy mysteries and other stuff requiring trench coats and impossibly complicated signs and counter-signs among spies. "The bristle of the thistle makes me whistle" may be one such phrase, although I might have gotten it wrong, not being a spy. "That sounds vaguely dirty," says one character, more than once. Jones, Zafer-Joyce, Gilbert and Newport are all a lot of fun in this one-act.
Hats off to directors Robyn Ginsburg Braverman and Troy Johnson, who manage to make it all work.
Freelance Writer John Orr can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: "Pear Slices 2019."
Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View.
When: May 2-19 (check online for times).
Info: The Pear.