An Evening of Possibilities

Cary Players @ Cary Arts Center
Through Feb. 9

Local audiences know that a production of 10-minute plays like Cary Players’ An Evening of Possibilities is the theatrical equivalent of a night out at a tapas bar: an appealing collection of piquant, sweet, savoryand, above all, smalldishes.

But if a dozen years of 10 By 10 Festivals at Carrboro’s ArtsCenter have more than made the case for such fare, they’ve also apprised us of its occasional difficulties.

Since all playwrights aren’t equally adept at establishing worlds and situationsand then escorting us through a change in the characters’ livesin 600 seconds or less, economy of expression is key. And instead of lowering the stakes, the time frame actually puts added pressure on directors and actors to get the work done and then get out without leaving audiences feeling cheated or rushed.

Mark Harvey Levine is more successful at this genre than most; that’s obvious from at least four previous ArtsCenter mountings of his playlets since 2004. In this latest effort, Cary Players turns the entire program over to Levine, staging a host of regional premieres along with two works previously staged in Carrboro. As with 10 By 10, a quintet of directors helms a colony of actors who populate the various acts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two reprises were among the evening’s best. In “The Rental,” crisply directed by Tim Wiest, Joseph Callender gives a sharp performance as a hapless rent-a-boyfriend opposite a combative Alison Davis. In “Misfortune,” a character played by Chris Berg receives a series of ominous fortune cookies in a Chinese restaurant, to the escalating bemusement of his scene partner, an incisive Laurel Ullman. Jon Todd’s direction is brisk, though Jordyn Ballentine’s supporting work seemed cursory at points.

Under Connie DiGrazia’s discerning direction, Kirsten Ehlert and Jeffrey Nugent rise to meet an interesting challenge for actors in “The Remote,” a Twilight Zone-like take on a neglectful modern couple and a piece of technology that suddenly dominates their lives. Although Levine’s writing occasionally succumbs to needless underlinings of the not very deeply embedded morals of his sketches, the work and workers kept me fully engaged.

Levine’s writing is at its most enjoyable in “L.A. 8 A.M.,” an account of a couple’s average morning that becomes anything but average. Levine’s tale recalls Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams as it follows one character’s obsession with numbers to its chilling conclusion. Unfortunately, director Wiest’s ill-advised attempt to turn the play’s last words into a punch line gave a twist ending one twist too many.

An amusing time-travel thought experiment fuels the imagination in “Howard,” the story of a young man who receives two contradictory emissaries from the future (a bewildered Berg and a hearty David Klionsky). In “The Birthday Party,” directed by Greg Tarsa, Davis was poignantbut rushedas a sweet romantic overachiever on a first date. Ehlert reaped comic dividends in “A Case of Anxiety,” though Mark Anderson’s British detective needed further work; and Kerry Bunn and Steve Whetzel grounded a slightly sappy meditation on perfect moments, “Saver.

Although unavoidably a grab bag, the night’s program gave us an Evening with no shortage of interesting possibilities.

This article appeared in print with the headline “New testaments.”