“Pick of the Vine” – Make it short and sweet, and they did!
Ten plays, eight actors, four directors – this is beginning to sound like “The 12 Days of Christmas” – and one small but feisty Little Fish Theatre are presenting an annual succulent treat, the best five- to ten-minute long works for the stage they can find. I counted 37 people on the list of those who read somewhere near 800 submissions. Who knows how they boiled it down, what backroom deals were struck at midnight, but what’s on the platter they’re dishing out through Feb. 14 makes for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon or night on the town.
The company has its stable of regulars, and presumably nearly all of these actors and directors have worked with each other before, mostly at the Centre Street venue in downtown San Pedro but also with Shakespeare by the Sea (its parent company) and other venues, some near, some far. Cylan Brown, for example, who directs a pair of the ten plays, was featured on Easy Reader’s cover a while back in his role as Hamlet.
It’s best to start out with a scorecard, that is, a list of the cast since all of them appear at least three or four times: Holly Baker-Kreiswirth, Bridget Garwood, David Kieran, Mary Margaret Lewis, Rodney Rincon, Chad Skiles, Annie Vest, and Bill Wolski. And the directors? Cylan Brown, James Rice, Danielle Ozymandias, and Margaret Schugt.
Little Fish is a little venue, the second row is considered the nosebleed section, and props by necessity have to be minimal. If they ever stage “Miss Saigon” they’ll have to use a toy helicopter from Toy R Us.
“Anniversary,” by Sam Wallin, directed by Brown, stars Baker-Kreiswirth and Wolski as a married couple celebrating their wedding anniversary and trying to one-up each other on the number of gifts they’ve bought. There’s a nice little arc here from playful to, well, fiercely competitive. “Trash Day,” by Vincent Terrell Durham, directed by Rice, features Rincon as a homeless man sorting through trash cans set out on the street by a woman (Vest) who at first regards this as an invasion of privacy. The humor and the poignancy are well married, Rincon truly shines, and if asked to choose I’d say this is my favorite pick from the vine.
“Come and take it,” by Annie R. Such, directed by Brown, drops two brothers (Skiles, Wolski) into a scenario that seems closer to “High Noon” but then becomes more brotherly. “There’s Something About Flashdance,” by Diana Lee Woody and Henry Franco, directed by Ozymandias, gives us a young woman (Baker-Kreiswirth) who receives what might be an obscene phone call from an aging pervert in pyjamas (Kieran), but in short order the tables are turned and what seems dangerous at the start has us laughing by the end.
“Mamie and Martin Go To Bed,” by Kat Ramsburg, directed by Schugt, with Lewis and Rincon, is a bit risque in that an older couple goes to a motel because the husband wants them to try out a new position. If you’re wondering if there’s wall-pounding sex, well, yes, of course. You may find yourself grinning from ear to ear, and, by the way, Lewis truly is a gem. “Salt in the Wound,” by Mark Harvey Levine, directed by Rice, is an imaginative take based on the belief that if you spill the saltshaker you have to toss a few grains over your shoulder. Garwood scoffs at the notion when this happens to her, and guess what? The Devil comes calling!
“The Maltese Walter,” by John Minigan, directed by Ozymandias, is a mix of Sigmund Freud and Dashiell Hammett, and maybe even Walter Mitty, with Wolski as a husband-to-be with a split personality, so to speak. “Shadows,” by Greg Freier, directed by Rice, begins with a son (Wolski) stopping by to visit his father (Rincon), living in a retirement home or assisted care facility. Dad says, You just missed your mother. Son says, Dad, mom’s been dead for several years. The son leaves, and then the mother appears. Dad says, you just missed your son. His wife says, No, can’t be, he’s been dead for… And so, hold on, something’s going on here, huh? That’s a gentle but sharp little jolt that we’re in for.
“Fighting Mr. Right,” by Barbara Lindsay, directed by Ozymandias, begins with a young woman (Garwood) and man (Skiles) just returning to the former’s apartment after a first date. The young man is hoping that, well, maybe he’ll be invited to stay for a few hours. But his lady friend has some peculiar requirements before she’ll sleep with anyone. “Pre-Occupy Hollywood,” by Dylan Brody, directed by Schugt, is quite a finale with almost the entire cast, most of them here as film or TV extras waiting and waiting and waiting to see if they’ll be called. As with the majority of the other plays, brief as it is, there are twists and turns every step of the way.
These ten works comprise a tasty banquet in which, perhaps surprisingly, every dish lingers pleasantly in the memory. The plays are well written, rehearsed, and finely acted. I can’t recommend it enough, and it’s just the first of 11 offerings for the 2015 season.
“Pick of the Vine” is onstage through Feb. 14 at Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro. Performances, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., with Thursday 2 p.m. shows on Feb. 5 and 12. Tickets, $27 general; $25 seniors. Free parking behind the theater or on the street. (310) 512-6030 or go to littlefishtheatre.org.