This Doesn’t End Well

Through Sunday, Jan. 20

Sonorous Road Theatre, Raleigh

It takes an incredible amount of resilience to be a playwright. When actors audition, at least they get to make their case in person, with their own bodies and voices. Though writers see and hear their characters just as clearly, scripts for stage traditionally list only the characters’ names, genders, and ages, along with the briefest of descriptions of their personalities. All the rest depends on the imaginations of competition judges and literary managers to flesh out the dialogue and scenes.

Give South Stream Productions artistic director Brook North full marks for chutzpah, then, with This Doesn’t End Well, his omnibus of seven (and a half) ten-minute plays at Sonorous Road Theatre. When your show’s publicity and playbill clearly state that “theater companies have rejected all these plays,” your production is then obliged to finish that sentence with the words, “and this is why they were wrong.”

North gets first-class help in making that argument from blue-chip actors Julie Oliver and company cofounder John Honeycutt; notable up-and-comers Katie Barrett, Lou Campbell, and David Thomas; and solid mid-careerists Natalie Turgeon and Ben Apple.

The good news? At least seven shows made their case. (I missed the “half” North added to the mix, a brief, cold-open bit appropriately named Meta, because a Wade Avenue collision delayed me and other patrons on opening night.) Barrett and Thomas brought wit and a couple of lovely chills to their high-school-student characters in the evening’s most deft piece of stage work, Information, and a sextet made Lunch Break a dark, crisp, just-long-enough burlesque of office life (and death).

Though the tells tip us off early in two works, Inside Job is a compelling crime procedural, with graceful work from Oliver and Campbell. Honeycutt, Thomas, and Oliver array the gritty racetrack tale Railbirds with poignancy and gravitas. Trekkies get a send-up in a sci-fi spoof, Clover, and the anthropology-meets-commerce farce, Misplaced, is strictly played for laughs.

Though momentarily kludgy staging, not fully integrated performances, and a metaphysical conceit repeated once too often reduced the impact of the semi-sentimental closer, The Stream, I was still glad enough that I saw it and its cohort to conclude that the title, This Doesn’t End Well, fails the truth-in-advertising test. Repeatedly, this engaging septet ends very well indeed.