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Balls! Five One-Act Plays by Alan Ball

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BALLS! FIVE ONE-ACT PLAYS BY ALAN BALL, BackStage Theatre Company, at Heartland Studio Theater. The quintet of Alan Ball one-acts on display here, taken with his by-the-numbers screenplay for American Beauty, makes the case that he's a one-trick pony. As in the film, the women are mostly manipulative and shrewish, the men seek validation by reverting to the "freedom" of adolescent self-indulgence, and consumer culture reduces everyone to Pavlovian automatons. Particularly in Power Lunch, which kicks off the second act, Ball repeats himself at excruciating length, as a man and woman hurl battle-of-the-sexes barbs at each other yet are still sexually attracted. In Danielle Mari's rote staging it's Neil LaBute Lite, lacking LaBute's well-honed gift for primal ickiness.

Made for a Woman ends on a forced Little Murders note, which only points up how much better Jules Feiffer is than Ball at limning the soul-killing nature of urban isolation. The best piece is Bachelor Holiday, in which three mismatched male roommates argue over Cocoa Puffs and bemoan their pointless lives. As a perpetual slacker devoid of guilt, Manny Sosa anchors this piece (as he does Power Lunch). His hilarious offhand delivery makes Ball's cliches go down easier than the hysteria of the other ensemble members.

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