Dorien Makhlogi and Jessica Pohly in The Great Recession
(© Ryan Jensen)
Dorien Makhlogi and Jessica Pohly in The Great Recession
(© Ryan Jensen)
For The Great Recession, currently at The Flea Theatre, six of theater's hippest playwrights were engaged to write short plays related to the current recession and its effects on young people. While some are more successful than others, the hit-or-miss evening doesn't cohere nearly as well as one would hope.

The evening begins with Adam Rapp's "Classic Kitchen Timer," in which a recently unemployed woman (Sarah Ellen Stephens) has 12 minutes to take advantage of a "unique financial opportunity" which promises 25,000 dollars if she knifes a baby to death. Rapp employs a vaguely sinister narrator (Nick Maccarone) to draw out her story, perhaps in pursuit of quickly making the woman's dilemma more real to us by contrast, but the work's premise is so heavy-handed that it does the opposite.

Up next is Itamar Moses' "Fucked," which proves to be the evening's most successful and entertaining (and coincidentally, most traditional) effort. The conflict here is simple: we watch a guy (Dorien Makhlogi) evade responsibility as he drops the break-up bomb without warning on his far less moneyed girlfriend (Jessica Pohly). The audience connects to her shock and her demand for an explanation -- and it's easy to recognize his bad behavior for what it is despite his self-justifications. Under Michelle Tattenbaum's direction, both performers adeptly delineate the emotional levels of the scene. As for the play's thematic connection to the recession, it is made known only in its final moments.

That work is followed by Thomas Bradshaw's "New York Living," directed by Ethan McSweeny, which scores some snarky laughs of the "everyone is shallow" variety. The satirical piece begins at a theater rehearsal with an actor (Andy Gershenzon) and actress (Anna Greenfield) doing scene work on a text in which Bradshaw mocks empty, faux-political theater. ("Damn George Bush and this war!" the actor exclaims melodramatically, to amusing effect.) The actress is revolted when the actor gets an erection during their love scene and complains to the cooler-than-thou director (Raul Sigmund Julia) that it's "sexual harassment." He responds that it's not -- while laying on some sexual harassment of his own. What all this has to do with the stated "recession" theme of the evening is anybody's guess, although that may be its joke.

Bradshaw's blunt piece is followed by Erin Courtney's "Severed," directed by Davis McCallum, which seems at first to promise something more thematically substantive than what it delivers: a meet-cute story between a generally serious suit type (Ronald Washington) and an artsy gal (Amy Jackson). The evening's momentum is further slowed by Sheila Callaghan's static "Recess," directed by Kip Fagan, which depicts urban survivors holed up in an underground space following a severe devastating financial crash. At this short length, it's more a glimpse of a situation rather than a play.

The show's busiest and most structurally ambitious play, Will Eno's "Unum," directed by Jim Simpson, is perhaps disadvantaged by also being the evening's last. The piece zig-zags between several situations which initially seem unrelated but eventually prove to be thematically linked: the most memorable has an investor (Laurel Holland) getting soulless advice from her money manager (Marshall York).