The Green Cricket and Braising, at the Lunar Cabaret, Ragman, at the Lunar Cabaret, Si la gente quiere comer carne, le damos carne, at Pulaski Park. Most theaters say they encourage new work by "emerging authors," but few do more than pay token attention, usually to a favored (and well-connected) few. Who can blame them? Most plays by inexperienced writers are awkward, eccentric, and tedious.
Still, I thank the gods of theater that the Rhinoceros Theater Festival opens its stages to untried authors, because every once in a while a first-time playwright like Idris Goodwin comes along. From the first words of Braising, he shows he knows what he's doing. The premise is deceptively simple: two romantically entwined would-be bank robbers must find a new way to live when the woman is crippled by a stray bullet during a thwarted robbery. This verbally rich 90-minute play shows their relationship crumbling as she's consumed by bitterness and he sinks into denial, then takes desperate measures.
Though Braising is filled with crisp dialogue, Goodwin never seems dazzled by his own wit. Rather he focuses on creating multifaceted, constantly surprising characters. Jonathan Putman and Alexandra Blatt seemed to be having as much fun playing this misbegotten duo as we had watching them.
The opposite was true for another new work on the same bill: the performers in Nicole Marie Kupper's The Green Cricket seemed every bit as tortured and bored by this confusing, undramatic work as we were. According to the program, Kupper was inspired to write the play by a "long and adventurous vacation in Italy," but "inspired" doesn't seem the word for a series of odd, flat, barely connected scenes about a real or imagined trip. Full of pointless dialogue and characters half realized at best, this 90-minute play offers precious little adventure.
Writer-performer Michael K. Meyers hardly counts as a new playwright. But he made a neophyte's mistake when he decided to both direct and star in Ragman, excerpted from his novel in progress. Set on the day six months after John Lennon's death when Yoko Ono emerged from self-imposed seclusion, Meyers's rich, well-written piece weaves together a handful of stories connected, however tangentially, to the media frenzy associated with Ono's reappearance. It depends utterly on a strong narrator to pull the fragments together, but Meyers reads his own words in a mumbled, whining drone. The supporting ensemble of four fare somewhat better, though everyone seems underrehearsed.
Meyers could learn a thing or two from Antonio Sacre, whose monologue isn't nearly as literary as Meyers's work but who performs his intimate, satisfying portrait of a troubled brother, Si la gente quiere comer carne, le damos carne, with such conviction and power he rivets the audience. Sacre keeps his script simple: much of the storytelling is so informal it could pass for dinner-table talk. But he never forgets he's onstage, varying his rhythms and tone to engage the audience.