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PIE: MORE NEW PLAYS IN YOUR FACE

Econo-Art Theatre Company

Tina Howe based her play The Art of Dining on the parallels between food and art. To Howe, art is a gourmet dish to be savored and sampled delicately.

The Econo-Art Theatre Company is less dainty in its tastes. Not for EATco the souffle or mousse. Their approach is bring the audience in, and POW! Right in the kisser.

The four short plays in EATco's current program, "Pie: More New Plays in Your Face," have the zany impetuousness you'd expect from food flingers. We see a woman with her head in a fish tank (in this play a dog's the main character), housewives reenacting Gone With the Wind while a husband in the attic waits for Martians to pick him up, and a mute woman dancing to the ukelele of her wisecracking sister who's singing a dirty song. But beyond wackiness, the plays have little in common.

The most engaging is Mackinac Island, a first play by David Alan Payne that begins the evening. This lyrical, gently quirky love story, set at a Gatsby-like party, begins like an old black-and-white movie. Dramatic music crescendos in the darkness and a match lights a cigarette. Lights come up on a handsome young man (Michael Kaplan) in a white dinner jacket. He introduces us to his close circle of friends, who are weird, wonderful, and loving. Sisters Lynn and Robin Baber are particularly disarming as, respectively, a witty, cynical party girl and her silent sister. The play unfolds like a humorous F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, full of music and poetry and clever turns of phrase (not to mention that ukelele solo). But mostly it is a tender character study, showing us frailty and strength and the beauty of friends.

Atomic Dog by Sean Enright has its own brand of quirkiness. It takes place in the New Jersey home of a young English couple, after the funeral of their best friend. But the main character is a mangy dog that has wandered into the house. The main problem with this play is that it's very unclear who the dog is, why it's here, and what it wants. There's some suggestion that it is the reincarnation of the dead friend, a theory heightened by a hilarious seduction scene between woman and dog. But as the dog keeps talking about its subversive behavior in obedience school, it seems to be just some demonic mutt with a huge chip on its shoulder. Go figure. Still, Paul Myers makes such a wonderful dog, he's almost worth the confusion.

The evening gets even stranger with Joel Johnson's Confess to Little Faults. This is a 50s sitcom gone completely insane. Jackie the housewife (Elizabeth Muckley) is troubled. She sits in her big pink kitchen with a big pink bow in her hair eating pink cookies with her good-hearted neighbor, trying to figure out how to get her husband out of the attic. He's been there since the baby was born. Enter Pastor Laird and his loopy wife Lucille, and the whole thing becomes a sleigh ride to hell. There are some great moments. The pastor almost offs himself on the cookies. The housewives' rendition of Gone With the Wind is a hoot. But the play goes on forever! Johnson kills time with more and more madcap, meaningless action, then whips up an ending out of thin air.

And finally, back by popular demand, is Peter Hedges's The Age of Pie, a 70s encounter-group spectacle that gives the evening its name. There's not a lot of meat to this one, but a hell of a lot of cream pies. Who but a party-pooping fuddy-duddy can knock good old-fashioned, real live pie throwing!

While the plays themselves are often disappointing, the acting compensates for many of the flaws. It's not that anyone is so good (although Lynn Baber does stand out), but that everyone works so well together. And sound designer Mark Grinnell has done a wonderful job of adding to the fun. His transitional music usually had me laughing before the lights were up on the next piece.

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