"Guillotine," the first piece, is perhaps the only exception. This short piece about a maid cleaning an apartment that contains a guillotine purchased for "self-protection" recalls zany moments from such Martin movies as The Jerk and Father of the Bride. Delphine Godin does not have much stage time in the under-five minute segment, but she draws many laughs as the audience watches the maid risk her life in order to dust thoroughly.
The slowest piece of the evening, "Patter for the Floating Lady," has its moments but fails to create characters anyone would care to watch. After an amusing magic sequence that includes many clever tricks, the magician's assistant (Elizabeth Ellinghaus) decides to leave the act...or, more specifically, to leave the magician (Tore Ingersoll-Thorp). Suddenly, the play is a love story about their doomed relationship. There is an attempt at profundity as the magician mutters that "love makes us godlike with one exception: after the crucifixion, you need to roll away your own stone." Special effects do make the playlet somewhat impressive, especially when the magician manages to levitate the girl.
The next short play, "The Zig-Zag Woman," is a significant departure from what preceded it. It begins with a woman standing in a box, but not just any old box--this one shifts her waist to the right so that her body is contorted in a zig-zag fashion. Quite possibly the best of the four, the piece contains just the right balance of humor and sentimentality. Meagan Moses plays the waitress, who is standing in the box in an effort to make Mr. Right finally notice her. As this "Zig-Zag Woman" begins to talk about love and broken hearts with an old man (Pete Barker) whose wife abandoned him for an actor twenty years earlier, she listens in true agony; her facial expressions capture her physical and emotional pain.
While watching Moses is entertaining, the old man's tone as he recalls the lost love of his life is what brings real depth to the piece. "In the beginning of something, the ending is foretold," he says, "and we met in an elevator going down." Josh Dine enters as a customer remembering the death of his high-maintenance first wife (who didn't give him "dying words" but rather a "dying essay"). Finally, a third, younger man (Cameron Wright) enters the picture, dreaming of meeting a woman who is (of course) 'zig-zagged.' This piece is Martin's crowning achievement of the evening, containing the physical humor of "Guillotine," the special effects of "Floating Lady," and the cunning lines of the final segment, "WASP," while also including a dose of genuine emotion.
"WASP" is significantly longer than the other pieces, and it really gives its performers a chance to shine. Once again, Moses and Wright are paired, but this time they are a WASP-y couple with two children at Christmastime. Moses again succeeds in entertaining with her evocative facial expressions as she amusingly calls out to her inner voices, personified by Marta Rainer. Wright is equally funny as a blundering father with knowledge of golf but little knowledge of how to communicate with his son (Dine). "A luxury item is a thing that you have that annoys other people that you have it," the father explains, after telling his son that he must work if he wants to get something as luxurious as a bike for Christmas. No wonder the son needs an alien to explain life to him! Ellinghaus, who has more to work with here than in "Floating Lady", plays the daughter, who goes off on wild tangents as she struggles through "I Saw Three Ships" with her choir.
The scenery for the plays is not extensive, but a few set pieces stand out: e.g., the zig-zagging box, which is painted to resemble a blue dress with orange polka dots, and the curtain that hides the levitating woman in "Floating Lady." Nate Meyer's direction brings Martin's humor and charm to life, and even the sequences without dialogue never feel too long. Four Short Plays by Steve Martin may not be exactly the type of comedy that you'd expect, but what you get instead is a surprising treat.