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Out of the Storefronts

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OFF OFF LOOP THEATER FESTIVAL

SEX LIVES OF SUPERHEROES

Griffin Theatre Company

FORECAST

Blind Parrot Productions

PARENTHESES

Bailiwick Repertory

What love does is to arm. It arms the worth of life in spite of life.

--Archibald MacLeish

Add to the pleasant shock of falling in love the additional surprise of some unlikely lovers, and you've got the agreeable setup for the Wednesday bill of the Off Off Loop Theater Festival. This year's programs in the non-Equity theater showcase are conveniently arranged by theme, and these three stylistically diverse one-acts depict the varied ways three ill-suited couples come together: a contrived "meeting cute" pairing in Bailiwick Repertory's inane offering, a surreal encounter in the one-act by Blind Parrot Productions, and a hilarious merger in the Griffin Theatre Company's ingenious contribution.

Griffin's Sex Lives of Superheroes is a delightful discovery--a four-star charmer by Stephen Gregg, the perfect mouse-that-roared comedy. Its nebbishy unhero, Michael, is victimized by Lisa, a vindictive ex-girlfriend who left him two years earlier but still barges into his apartment every Wednesday to remove more of her belongings--and his, too. Timid Michael has even given Lisa keys to facilitate her weekly home invasions.

To escape Lisa's harassment, Michael imagines he's lecturing to rapt audiences in Carnegie Hall on the sex habits of comic-book superheroes. They're either asexual or all-sexual, impotent or omnipotent. He answers questions about Batman and Robin's sex life: Batman is willing, but Robin won't put out. He tells why Lois and Superman can never marry: the sex would kill her. He even argues that the superheroes with secret identities are less sexually repressed than ones who are "out" (it's too complex to go into here).

Talking to himself helps preserve Michael's own identity--but Lisa even manages to break into his fantasies and ask questions she knows he can't answer. When Elenor, Michael's dowdy dinner date, shares with him her own quirk--she rewrites famous love stories to give them grisly endings--Michael knows he's found a kindred soul. In the play's hilarious showdown--a comic-book trivia quiz--Michael and Elenor put Lisa to flight.

Sex Lives of Superheroes is one of those rare scripts in which delightful things happen believably. The characters' eccentricities complement each other without contrivance, and the script provides apt metaphors for the characters' situations. In one wonderful moment, Michael imagines Lisa as a woodcutter and himself as a tree, helpless as Lisa hacks off valuable branches he didn't know he had until she chopped them off--and then she starts going for the trunk.

Equally right is David Williams's deft direction: without ever forfeiting their splendid silliness, the cartoon characters still make themselves matter. G. Scott Thomas plays Michael without a shred of self-pity, Jill Murray's Elenor sweetly completes Michael's quirks with her own daffy excess, and Kimberly Muller gives Lisa an icy ire that cries out for comeuppance.

Blind Parrot's production is Elizabeth Wray's sci-fi fairy tale Forecast--an oddly poetic series of cryptic blackout scenes that brims with unforced but almost antiromantic feelings. Set during an unspecified war, it contrasts an extroverted American astronaut with the dour Peruvian woman into whose potato patch he's crashed.

They inch toward something like affection for each other. Though they're initially distrustful--she accuses Americans of arming the soldiers who destroyed her village--the peasant and the spaceman go from mumbling about rain and crops to comforting each other after nightmares to amusing each other with plane and animal imitations. He drags in a piece of his space capsule and they nestle there--he tells her to float and daydream. He shows her how to see the stars differently, and she throws him potatoes from her patch. The intimacy that grows up between them is too deep to need any announcement.

Despite the worlds-apart lovers who stumble into an unlikely closeness, Forecast couldn't seem less fabricated. Clare Nolan-Long's slow and steady staging allows the little moments to loom large. Peter Leondedis's astronaut is nicely down to earth, and Diana Esther Sorin (an acquaintance of mine performing under a pseudonym) plays the peasant woman with hearty spontaneity.

Alas, there's nothing spontaneous about Bill Wine's tedious, talky, cloying Parentheses. A piece of TV-dinner theater, this hokey creation imagines a schoolteacher in a Quaker school falling in love with the irate father of the little girl she hit. Gary Sobel arrives at the Lifelong Friends School to protest his daughter Rebecca's throttling. Rebecca is a foul-mouthed tyke ("douche bag" is a favorite epithet) who told her teacher--Cinnamon Fitzpatrick--that she was grumpy because she was having her "pyramid." The precocious first-grader even draws dinosaurs with penises.

It turns out that Gary's little darling set up this meeting because she knows Gary and the saccharinely named Cinnamon are perfect for each other. And gosh, she's right: Cinnamon understands Rebecca's need for discipline and a mother figure, and Gary does need a helpmate.

Gary and Cinnamon launch into a stultifying talkfest crammed with pop psychology; between kisses, they analyze their life histories to smithereens and self-consciously conclude they're right for each other. Only after the third kiss does Cinnamon remember they're in a classroom and get frigid--one of many phony moves in this smarmy subsitcom.

Patricia Pendleton's calculated Bailiwick Rep staging merely mixes plastic with the pabulum: she employs broad gestures, frenetic pacing, and italicized acting to underline Wine's spoon-feeding and pandering. Jane de Laubenfels and John Hines play the cute couple with a shining, bubbly, perky sincerity that makes the godawful contrivance creakier still.

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