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Theater Review: An Improbable Peck of Plays II in Olympia

Seven the hard way

Clockwise from top left: Bobby Brown, Debbie Sampson and Kate Arvin in "Hygiene." Photo courtesy of Prodigal Sun Productions

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The Northwest Playwrights Alliance has once again teamed with Prodigal Sun Productions to present short new plays in the Midnight Sun, An Improbable Peck of Plays II. I'm a fan of zero-budgeted evenings like this. They're easy to produce and digest, plus a much-needed venue for writers both fledgling and experienced. Even better? All seven plays are locally sourced.

Charlotte's Web We Weave by Philip Atlakson finds a mother reading and interpreting E. B. White's bighearted classic for her daughter. I found the piece dry and foresaw its ending as it marched up Seventh Avenue. Credit director Tom Sanders for a clever optical illusion that makes Judy Oliver look half the size of her "mom," Debbie Sampson. Arlitia Jones's Shoe Story owes much to Edward Albee's one-act Zoo Story, of which it's a near-parody. Kate Arvin plays a woman who has designs on Erin Chanfrau's expensive footwear. Unlike Albee's play, this short has trouble sticking its landing. Deane Shellman nudges credible performances from both actors.

In the first Improbable Peck, Dan Erickson gave us New Life in a Lifeless World, in which a terminal patient attempted to store and save memories. His piece for this year, Sinatra's Ocean, returns to the dreamy complexities of headspace. I found it bewildering, but the same could be said of Charlie Kaufman, a writer Erickson seems to admire. Oliver's good as a hostile nurse-figure. Bryan Willis reveals The Awesome Power of the Black and Decker LH5000 12 Amp Variable Speed Electricleaf Hog Blower, portrayed here by Kate Arvin. Heretofore best known for tech prowess, Arvin demonstrates exceptional range and comic timing in this show. I hope it's a breakout for her.

A memorable Peck I short ribbed minimalist composer Philip Glass. Keep that in mind through Gregory Hischak's Hygiene, in which a grade-school tyke (Arvin again) has an unusual parasite lodged in her scalp. This piece is weird in all the best ways such plays have a license to be. Its comic sensibility reminded me of short works by David Ives and Christopher Durang. In Books on Tape, William Missouri Downs introduces us to Adriane (Oliver), who can't abide intimacy without the aid of a narrator; it's sweetly erotic. Then Amy Shepard offers vignettes about the manifold ways cats are a-holes in 13 Lives. She's on the nose in both the positive and negative sense.

Throughout the night, one audience member chortled and clapped at each line, responding to actors vocally in a volume almost equal to theirs. This comes on the heels of a vaudeville performance from which an inebriated audience member had to be ejected. It's incredibly distracting. Appreciation is one thing, folks, but this ain't Rocky Horror. You don't have lines in these productions, so how about holding it together so the actors can concentrate on theirs?

AN IMPROBABLE PECK OF PLAYS II, 8 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, through Oct. 26, The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 N. Columbia St., Olympia, $12-$18,

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