The best thing that can be said about INTAR’s evening of one-acts, In Paradise / She Plundered Him, now at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is that it’s short. The first piece runs about a half hour and the second is around 35 minutes; yet while each play starts out with a provocative premise, it doesn’t go into very interesting territory.
Eduardo Machado’s In Paradise leads off the evening, telling the tale of Carlos (Ed Vassallo), who left his wife Marilyn (Leslie Lyles) seven years ago for another man, and who now returns to her once his boyfriend leaves him for a woman. While there’s a certain farcical construction to the situation that the playwright sets up, Machado unfortunately seems more interested in melodrama. Lyles does what she can with speeches that are more exposition than character-building. Vassallo is silent for a large portion of the play, and soft-spoken once he does get talking. Carlos claims to be lost and looking for Marilyn to save him. And yet, the actor plays him so calmly that you never get a sense of his pain or desperation.
Following a ten-minute intermission necessitated by a set change-over, Nick Norman’s She Plundered Him ends up being even more ludicrously melodramatic than the first piece. Set in England, the three-person cast speaks with inconsistent English accents — particularly James Chen as Anthony, the son of Keep (Lyles again), and Calder (Mark Elliot Wilson). The speech patterns used by the characters are also stylized, with an anachronistic formal construction to the language, offset by obscenities that seem very much current-day.
The basic premise of the piece is that Calder suspects his wife and son of incestuous relations. While he admittedly suffers from paranoia and depression, he also may not be incorrect. I spent a good deal of the play trying to decide if it was a parody, or if it really was as poorly written as it seems. My best guess is that Norman intended it as a satirical comedy of manners about family dynamics. However, the tone of both play and Billy Hopkins’ production seems off, with several jokes that don’t land and moments that end up being unintentionally funny because the actors can’t bring them off.
On a positive note, the production does feature an interesting set and lighting design by Maruti Evans. The entire narrow playing space — walls, floors, ceilings — are made up of a mirrored surface. Not only does it catch the light in interesting ways, it aptly reflects the narcissistic qualities of all of the characters in both plays, who are so self-absorbed that they can only seem to pay attention to their own needs.