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Rolin Jones' collection of six short plays yields uneven results. logo
Jonathan Fielding, Brenda Withers, and Robert Kropf
in Shortstack
(© Jim Dalglish)
You know how pancake batter can yield uneven results, with maybe only one perfect specimen in the bunch? The same is true of Rolin Jones' Shortstack, a collection of six short plays premiering at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre.

The winner in the lot -- the perfect pancake, if you will -- is "sovereignty," in which two housewives (Stacy Fischer and Brenda Withers) speculate about a mysterious family next-door while feigning friendship and backbiting on the sly. It's full of casually shocking revelations, and punctuated by the sound of savage beatings -- a resonant thrum which Jones deftly elevates to a world-circling angst. This is playwriting that surpasses the demands of short-order satisfaction.

Far too fragmentary, however, is the opening playlet, "ron bobby had too big a heart," about two high-school girls (also Withers and Fischer) on the lam in blood-streaked gowns, having wreaked revenge on the boyfriend of the title for getting it on with the prom queen, whom they're holding hostage. The dialogue for this one rips past at such a breakneck speed that it's tough to keep up. Are they really intent on "driving all the way" to the University of Guam? Then what's with their plan for "Pilates in Jerusalem"? Even absurdity needs to make a little more sense.

"chronicles simpkins will cut your ass," about a ruthless grade-school tetherball champ (swaggering Amanda Collins), is also pretty simplistic, like a Saturday Night Live routine; it's also effective for that very reason. Then there's the more ambitious "advice to another in a long line of idiot children" in which a fast-talking mother (Withers) delivers an inane olio of bromides to her silent son, who sits, rope-bound, holding a goldfish bowl. Her rant is part Winnie in Happy Days, part Polonius, and though Withers' delivery shouts tour-de-force, the emotional content never quite connects.

Less successful is "extremely," a character sketch about two gung-ho high-risk sports enthusiasts (Robert Kropf and Jonathan Fielding), who aggressively recite a litany of injuries and questionable accomplishments ("Ever tried something called lava hockey?"), while "the mercury and the magic," the closing skit about a pair of possums contemplating the meaning of life (Kropf and Fielding), just isn't fully cooked.

Meanwhile, the real heroes of the show are the black-clad, uncredited "ninja" stagehands who lurk upstage to catch the braggarts' tossed empties -- and to keep the ball rolling in a two-man, four-racquet, three-shuttlecock round of badminton -- as well as help suggest the "car" that the girls are driving, twitch a possum's tail, or serve as door jambs. Director Brendan Hughes is to be credited for employing them so imaginatively.

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