Gillian Durkee and Alex Draper in The Spoils
(© Stan Barouh)
Gillian Durkee and Alex Draper in The Spoils
(© Stan Barouh)
Although men are usually considered the stronger sex, any encounters men and women undergo will end with the latter population half getting the advantage - or so is the message playwright Stephen Dykes sends in the annoyingly obscure pair of Harold Pinter-influenced one-acts that comprise PTP/NYC's Territories, now at Atlantic Stage 2.

In the curtain-raiser "The Spoils," an interpreter identified only as Shilling (Alex Draper) has at his disposal four jailed secretaries, Loti (Nesba Crenshaw), Tala (Cori Hundt), Dobra (Gillian Durkee) and Kyat (Lilli Stern) from whom he's hoping to extract incriminating information about the military officials for whom they've been toiling.

A program note reports that both Sykes' pieces are based on actual events that stand for larger issues, and it seems this one is inspired, at least in part, by what's known as the General Federation of Iraqi Women (GFIW), "a popular democratic organization" founded in 1969. Without this kernel of insight, it would be difficult to make a great deal of sense of Shilling's futile series of interviews with his subjects.

Knowing this doesn't really help much either, What does become obvious as "The Spoils" unfolds that the women -- each evading or trying to seduce Shilling in her own manner -- are inevitably going to foil a man initially confident about his abilities.

In the second play, "A Gathering of Dust," it looks as if a man (Draper again), noted in the program as 3, is married to -- or is in an extremely committed and hot-as-a-steam-iron relationship with--2 (Megan Byrne). He's also having an affair with 1 (Stephanie Janssen), who happens to be 2's longtime best friend.

It's not just a casual involvement, either. Indeed, 3 and I are so into each other they think nothing of having unbridled sexual relations while 2 listens in growing dismay from the next room. It also becomes apparent that although 3 gives the impression he has the best of both opportunities, 1 and 2 will in the long run add up to more than 3.

Once again, the program notes indicate that this anxiety-causing romantic triangle is actually about something else entirely. Sykes is supposedly drawing here on Stasi records kept during Germany's 20th-century division between east and west, and that the playwright may well want spectators to see 2 and 1 as representing the two halves of Germany being taken advantage of by a third unclear force that forfeits all its power at the country's 1989 reunification. Then again, only Sykes can truly say if that's what he's after.