The evening opens with John Conley's "Farewell to Hippocrates," a stark condemnation of the contemporary medical profession's violation of the ethical ideals it claims to uphold. In a fine piece of ensemble acting, directed by Alec Lawson, a brooding trio of doctors (Beverly Shannon, Sarah Heiderman, and Rachel James) assaults the Hippocratic ideals of life, purity, and privacy. Kevin Kostic's "One Out of Five" is a charming piece on the anxieties of the parents of quintuplets. Directed by Danielle Young, Justin Isett and Emma Healey are suitably harried as the anxious couple. Susan McCarty's "Where Will We Go, What Will We Do?" is a farcial spin on the gay marriage debate and the anxieties it provokes. Under Kendra Richard's direction, Justin Isett, Beverly Shannon, Sarah Heidermann, and Ben Hoover are properly manic. J-F Bibeau's "In Theory" features two faux monkeys involved in a scientifc hoax. Directed by Kendra Richard, Emma Healey and Ben Hoover make energetic chimps, but this one-joke play could have used some pruning. The program's wittiest comedy, Laura Merrill's "The Great Unspeakable Tragedy of the Poorly Made Soup" features four frenzied diners (Emma Healey, Justin Isett, Phil Doccolo, and Sarah Heiderman) who turn blame and recrimination into a fine art. Alec Lawson's direction uses a full emotional palette to express the diners' abrupt interactions.
Written by Clarinda Harriss, "Taming Chaos" is an entertaining literary joust on how to interpret a poem, featuring a guest appearance by Wallace Stevens and a mysterious chicken (ably mimed by Brett Messoria). Kendra Richard's direction enables Rachel James, Sarah Heiderman, and Ben Hoover to bring out the love of literature at the play's core. Matthew Smith's "Pastoral Smut" brings a touch of neoclassicism to the evening. A contemporary couple seems to be role-playing the old pastoral archetypes of nymph and shepherd. Danielle Young's direction and the performances by Justin Isett and Emma Healey provide an elegaic touch, but the play seems uncertain in tone. Joe Dennison's nightmarish "First Day" features an authoritarian military officer (convincingly played by Beverly Shannon) ordering a new recruit (Emma Healey) into her sadistic war games. Kelly Cardall's stark direction underscores the violent despair of the situation. Closing the program is Ben Hoover's "Parable no.4." A poetic piece, the play features two lonely, isolated persons (touchingly played by Sarah Heidermann and Phil Doccolo) whose separate monologues finally end in a lethal encounter. Since both characters simultaneously deliver their monologues, it is not easy to follow the narrative (it has something to do with someone dying in the nineteenth century), but the play's lyrical qualities, enhanced by the tableau-like direction of Alec Lawson, turn the audial chaos into consolation.The program had its false notes. To provide a transition between the plays Joe Dennison's "Well There You Have It," a satire on drive-time radio, has been hacked into smaller pieces. In an evening already heavy on text, this flood of extra words might cause migraines in certain audience members. The dim lighting abets the atmosphere of menacing chaos, but this audience member would have liked a better look at the intriguing abstract mural dominating the back of the playing area.
Variations on Chaos is a fine achievement in collaborative theater. The varied scripts, fluid direction, and energetic performances contribute to the evening's point that everyday order is illusory and that the apocalypse may be closer than we think.