Conversations on Russian Literature Plus Three More Plays

 FLY GIRLS Katherine Puma, left, and Gilbert play burnt-out entertainers.

FLY GIRLS Katherine Puma, left, and Gilbert play burnt-out entertainers. Photograph: Kyle Ancowitz

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

In a series of plays over the past five years—including Busted Jesus Comix, Candy & Dorothy and The Oresteia—David Johnston has quietly emerged as one of New York’s most engaging playwrights, often pricking tragic subjects with sneaky injections of needling wit. The four shorts that make up his new collection for Blue Coyote Theater Group don’t have much in common, but they’ve been stitched into a cozily crazy quilt.

The clearest antecedent for Johnston’s style remains Christopher Durang, whose influence is felt keenly in the curtain opener, Russian Play, a deadpan burlesque that does to Chekhov what Durang’s For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls did to Tennessee Williams. The trio of interlocking monologues For Those of Us Who Have Lived in France is notable mainly for its hilarious treatment of Henry Kissinger (David Lapkin) as an amoral sybarite. (“Pol Pot was the worst dinner guest ever,” he complains.) The fiercely deranged Tracey Gilbert drives the third piece, Mothra Is Waiting, as an aging showgirl who dreams of rescue by a mutant moth.

After intermission, Jonna McElrath and Frank Anderson spar compellingly as arms negotiators on a Moscow park bench in the lengthier Conversations on Russian Literature. Here the model is less Durang than Lee Blessing’s late--Cold War two-hander A Walk in the Woods, updated with smart literary allusions and a tough but good-hearted Southern woman. The tug-of-war, tug-of-heartstrings dynamics of the piece are somewhat stock, but well developed. When the lines are this good, it may be greedy to ask for more between them.

—Adam Feldman

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Access Theater. By David Johnston. Dir. Kyle Ancowitz, Stephen Speights, Gary Shrader. With ensemble cast. 1hr 45mins. One intermission.