The first piece, "The Problem," is both shorter and more promising than the second. A husband (Keith Reddin) is in his study preparing his lesson plan for an upcoming mathematics class. His wife (Susan Greenhill) enters, visibly pregnant. This is the first of a series of "problems" that the seemingly normal, white, middle-class couple must work through; questionable paternity, racial fetishization, and deep, dark secrets are brought to light. At its best, the brief play functions as a biting satire on white desire for the racial Other. It's revealed at one point that the husband dresses in blackface in order to make love to his wife in the guise of a black man -- which, he knows, is what she desires. Gurney's writing is deliciously funny as the absurd deception is revealed. "Remember how you like subdued lighting," the husband reasons. "Remember, too, that I played Othello in high school."
As the two characters continue their discussion -- all the while speaking in calm, reasonable tones -- the plot grows ever more ludicrous. A final twist in the plot logically resolves the situation while robbing the piece of its satirical bite; it's too pat and it reduces the play to the level of a cute domestic comedy, when it could have been more.
The second piece of the program, "The Guest Lecturer," follows fast on the heels of the first. In lieu of an intermission, a woman named Pat (Amy Southerland) plays a medley of show tunes on the piano as stagehands change James Noone's sets from that of a suburban family home to that of a small theater -- of course, using elements of the tiny Primary Stages theater itself. In the play, a young graduate student named Hartley (Remy Auberjonois) arrives to give a guest lecture on the future of American drama. The theater's artistic director, Mona (Greenhill), is the moderator of the discussion but keeps hinting at a mysterious secret relating to murder, cannibalism, and the fates of previous guest lecturers.
The plot unfolds in predictable fashion and is resolved pretty much as expected. To say more wouldn't exactly be ruining a surprise, but you can probably work it out for yourself. Since the piece is also intended as a paean to the power of the theater, its shortcomings are particularly disappointing. The play fails to deliver even as a satire of community theater and academia; in sum, it's a mildly amusing divertissement.