“Short Order Stories”
Directed by Joe Calarco
3700 S. Four Mile Run
Running through Oct. 21
It’s a rough night at the theater when “NOTHING!”, “NEVERMIND!” and the granddaddy of four-letter words are the most popular words in the script.
“Short Order Stories,” a play by Ren?e Calarco, is an insightful view into the difficulties of familial relationships in transition, but the action is too dramatic to make “Stories” feel real. The entire play is set in a rest-stop diner where in the first act the family stops on the way to taking their eldest daughter to college. Their neighbor and his son show up as well, adding the dimension of love affairs and misunderstandings.
Lacking subtlety, each relationship runs the gamut of screaming fights, sobbing debates and sexual tension, leaving the viewer feeling overwhelmed and the play unbalanced. It is painful to see the struggles between mother and daughter, husband and wife and friends and lovers barrel on like a train without brakes. It is a shame that the comedy is overshadowed by the drama, as Calarco has been working in improv comedy locally since 1987.
The second act is a reprieve. Nearly a year has passed, the characters have calmed and the problems are under the surface instead of exploding on top of it. The play sends the message that while there is no quick fix for family problems, there can be love, communication and forgiveness to fill the space in between.
The characters and situations themselves have aspects that most people can relate to, but the play seems to be directed towards an older audience. The adults in attendance were amused by Fran (Lee Mikeska Gardner) and Lou (Andy Brownstein), who argue about their daughter’s well being while Fran obsessively cleans the restaurant forks and Lou buries his head in the newspaper. Fran’s fidgeting, misspoken words and overbearing precautions with her daughter are the funniest parts of the play.
For college students, characters Jenn (Anne Veal, a theater major in the College of Arts and Sciences at AU) and Evan (Michael Grew) are a little extreme yet uncomfortably real. Most people have experienced the tension of growing up and away from their parents or watching their children grow away from them, and the play hits that nail on the head. Evan is the most likable character; a little chubby, non-threatening and confused, but meaning well. He seems less insane than the others and is the only one brave enough to admit his faults.
The first act only covers about 20 minutes of time, but spotlights each mini story individually while the other characters continue their lives around them, unheard. It is a pleasing design that shows how all the characters are connected but lets their separate relationships stand alone in center stage. The personal, black box style keeps the focus on the story with minimal props and d?cor rather than bright lights. In fact, maybe it does this a little too much; by the fourth “story” presented within the total, it becomes unclear where the play is going or if it will just continue to repeat within itself.
“Short Order Stories” is playing Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 21 at Theatre on the Run in Arlington. The play is a production of Charter Theatre, which produces new plays by local playwrights.