Joe Pintauro was an author, poet and prolific playwright in late 20th century New York. The eight plays in North Coast Repertory Theatre's Pintauro, A Night of One Acts are expressions of the human condition selected from Metropolitan Operas: 27 Short Plays. Each one, though brief, is complete on its own and unique from the others, like a handful of intricate lampwork beads. But the thread that holds them together is elusive. The characters range from rich to poor, broken to whole, jaded to innocent. Love is found and lost, relationships strained and mended. But why these eight out of the 27? Director Cynthia Martells has a lifetime of theater experience — good reason to trust what she likes.
There are 18 characters played by 12 actors in eight one-act plays. The brevity of the plays means every moment must make an impact. The whole cast meets the challenge and brings forth rich characters grappling with different defining moments in their lives. Reynolds (Dave Fuller) and Martin (Gary Sommers) have something to learn from each other and the waiter (Jaiden Clark) in Bus Stop Diner. Old frienemies Bete (Heather Petersteiner) and Star (Caroline Needham) are finally honest with each other in 10 Dollar Drinks. Grief rips unique wounds through a father (Scott Q. Marcus), his dead son's widower (Jordan Kieth Dobbins) and the widower's new partner (Clark) in Rosen's Son. A Dude (Mitch Finn) and a Doll (Finn Ferguson) are two deeply broken people aching for and terrified of emotional intimacy in Soft Dude. Wealthy couple Jenn (Rachel Houska) and Eric (Finn) find themselves in an ethical quagmire of their own making in Rex. Rustic Aunt Ency (Toodie Boll) and her fancy niece Megan (Houska) resolve a misunderstanding in Lenten Pudding. Doreen (Petersteiner) is visited one last time by Spook (Marcus) in Bird of Ill Omen. The most awkward confessional in the history of confessing happens between a priest (Dobbins) and Maise (Holly Robertson) in Rules of Love.
Each act is tightly focused on a crucial moment in the characters' lives, as if we walked in at the climax of the story. Every technical choice around the different acts enforces the focus. The stage is empty and dark but for a platform in the middle. The action of each act is focused on just a portion of the stage, giving a sense of intensity to the moment. The tight blocking works well for all but one act, where the characters spend some time on the floor, blocked from my view by the audience. I was sad to miss the crucial moment because of my stature. The set and props are minimal without being stark because every piece tells an important part of the story. They must, with so little time to tell the audience what it needs to know. The lighting (Brian Butler) is likewise simple yet impactful, although there were a couple of moments on opening night when an actor's face would be in shadow too long. If it was a choice, I didn't understand it; if it wasn't, I'm sure they'll work it out. The soundscapes, also by Butler, were just enough to carry me from act to act without clashing or distracting. The costumes (Megan Hughes) are distinct and thoughtful, telling me so much more than the script alone.
This textured, intricate collection of vignettes wasn't strung together like a bracelet, but rather presented within the vessel of theatre. My trust in Martells' taste was rewarded with eight nuanced stories I can think of again and again, finding some new way the light shines through each time.
North Coast Repertory Theatre's Pintauro: An Evening of One Acts runs through Sept. 17 with 8 p.m. performances Sept. 1-2 and 15-16, and 2 p.m. shows Sept. 3 and 17. Visit ncrt.net or call (707) 442-6278.
Doranna Benker Gilkey (she/her) is a magpie for bright, shiny little stories. When she isn't out collecting them, you can find her at her store, Dandar's Boardgames and Books in Arcata.
Celebrate strike season with Lysistrata, a contemporary adaptation of Aristophanes' sassy satire, at North Coast Repertory Theatre Aug. 25 through Sept. 24. Visit ncrt.net or call (707) 442-6278.