CIC. By Anthony Ellison, Tyler JC Whidden, Neal Adelman and Ryan Patrick Dolan. Directed by Karisa Bruin, Mary Rose O'Connor, Jeri Frederickson and Ashley Neal. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 5mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Dan Jakes
At the top of the show opening night, producer Ryan Patrick Dolan, an MFA student at Ohio University, gave a short, humble announcement to preface the evening: He and some of his peers were looking for a casual opportunity to try out and present some new work over the summer. Because they all happened to be men, he thought, why not hand over the new short works to female directors to help balance perspectives out?
It's an admirable consideration, even if the collection itself is a bit of a hodgepodge. The resulting four shows, all set in various small-town highway rest stops, vary from sketch comedy to stabs at hard drama with varying levels of follow-through.
The most promising work comes from Dolan himself. Burger King, directed by Ashley Neal, follows a white middle-class hit woman (Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst) and her in-car meeting with an upper-class client (Elizabeth Birnkrant) determined to off her wealthy husband. Appearances prove to be deceiving, and roles flip-flop during some clever wordplay and question-and-answer sessions. While sticking to its heart as a dark comedy, Dolan's piece concisely touches on gender roles, privilege, double standards and ethics without crossing the line into didacticism.
Neal Adelman's 1100 Chili Dogs, Or 1985: The Year Belinda Carlisle Came To Oklahoma, on the other hand, crosses all sorts of lines by design. Haja (Lauren Gilbert), a diner waitress in Enid, Oklahoma, meets power-pop idol Belinda Carlisle when an abused tour bus imp (Jimmy Pennington) stops in to run an errand for his larger-than-life lead singer. It's mostly nonsense, but often delightfully so, and serves mostly as a showcase for Gilbert's hilarious wide-eyed, slack-jawed Midwestern character archetype.
While The Truck Stop Plays mostly succeeds in comedy, it fails to build the dramatic oomph some of its pieces aim for. An hour running time for four plays leaves only about 15 minutes per show, which isn't enough for Tyler JC Whidden's Detour, about siblings coming to terms with the loss of their mother, to justify the full arc it presents. Likewise, in Anthony Ellison's Standin' Water, a nurse/gas station attendant (Cat Abood) woos an injured man (Ryan Heywood) against the will of a plumber/Sheriff (Damian Anaya). It's not clear what exactly Ellison is going for, here. What is clear, though, is that each piece contains a few gems in works still very much in development.