Boys and Girls

Bare Theatre
at Common Ground Theater
Through Feb. 21

There’s more of a split decision when it comes to Boys and Girls, Bare Theatre’s omnibus of three contemporary one-acts at Durham’s Common Ground Theater. That description alone signals a potentially bracing departure from the company’s usual Shakespearean bill of fare. But anyone anticipating a light valentine of an offering should steer their significant others elsewhere. While no first-date plays are in the mix, two of the three here have real potential to qualify for a last-date encounter.

Those of us who ultimately came to loathe either their own dolls or their siblings’ during childhood will find the twisted humor in a young girl’s serial toy killings at the start of Burying Barbie, a delectable cross between Calvin and Hobbes and Edward Gorey, with a little Emily the Strange to season. Under G. Todd Buker’s direction, a rewarding Jessica Heironimus as little Rachel and a tender Richard Butner as a perhaps not so imaginary friend clearly recall just how earnestand loopythe made-up games of early childhood were, before playwright Christopher Dimond’s script darkens into an examination of loss.

Buker’s directorial success is unfortunately not repeated during boygirlboygirl, Jason Williamson’s far-too-sketchy psychological profile of a loner who actually should have listened to the voices in his head. This time out, Buker’s inexperienced actors and haphazard blocking can’t overcome a flimsy script.

The evening’s last work, company artistic director Carmen-maria Mandley’s Ask Him in the Morning, literally asks us to sit in judgment on the central character, an audaciousand increasingly malevolenttheatrical named Gunnar. The premise is intriguing: that a damned soul stages his own worst deeds in a theater and then hands his fate to his colleague, an avenging angel of a professional actor named Kate, and, by extension, his audience. But what precipitates this crisis in the first place isn’t clear, and while some flashbacks are adequately developed, others seem sketchy in comparison. Loren Armitage’s alertand irritatinglead character doesn’t seem to ultimately connect with the marred soul who performed the earlier deeds, although Heather Hackford’s Kate convincingly slips into a broad series of supporting roles, before coming out in deadly certainty. Still, the plot mechanics of the turned tables toward the end are muddy, in a work whose promise is still in need of another draft, at least.