As its first entry in this year's Baltimore Playwrights Festival, Fell's Point Corner Theatre is presenting two one-act plays about searching for, or re-defining, family.
Steve Schutzman's "Ghosts Play One" is the more unusual and complex of the two. It's also risky and highly theatrical, and though the text meanders, director Robert Clingan does his best to keep up the level of tension.
Samuel Beckett would feel at home on designer Kirsten Hansen's bleak set, with its bare trees and trash can. He'd also recognize the tattered costumes worn by the actors, whose roles are listed simply as "Younger Man, Older Man, Woman and Man."
But as its title suggests, Schutzman's play is more a ghost story than an example of theater of the absurd. Like most ghost stories, this one has an element of mystery. The most intriguing mystery, however, isn't the outcome of the plot, but the identity of the characters.
As the Younger Man, Chris Cavolo initially looks out of place. Wearing a backpack and questioning the other characters, he could be an anthropology student observing the homeless. The only character interested in talking to him is the Man (Mark Bernier). Dressed in a dirty, torn tuxedo, he explains that he is married to the Woman (Katherine Lyons in an equally decrepit wedding gown), and that they had a son. "Had" is the operative word.
Soon after this, Cavolo play-acts a scene with this strange couple, pretending to be their son having breakfast at home with the family. At first, he seems to be doing this to help the couple, but it soon becomes evident that they have something he needs as well.
As to the Older Man (Jim Pollard), he's on the fringe of even this fringe society. In a play that makes repeated references to the dangerous similarities between humans and animals as well as life and death, the Old Man seems to be the cantankerous voice of cynical reason. Significantly, he exits before the last scene -- a rather touching tableau of familial comfort.
Compared to this unconventional piece, Steve Harper's "Abstract Purple" is downright concrete. A 15-year-old Hispanic girl named Rosa (JoAnna Lynn Senatore) breaks into a Harlem apartment she believes is vacant. Instead, it turns out to be the home of an elderly white woman -- an artist named Mary (Anne B. Mulligan), who is going blind.
Far from being afraid of her tough-talking, knife-wielding intruder, Mary welcomes Rosa's company. In fact, she finds Rosa so inspirational, she turns the tables on the would-be thief and locks her in the bathroom in an apparent attempt to harness her energy. Mary proceeds to paint the walls of her living room with a joyous mural that she feels represents Rosa's spirit.
Eventually we learn that Rosa isn't who she appears to be. More important, Mary and Rosa discover they share a bond as outsiders, and they form a surrogate mother-daughter bond.
Harper, a former co-host of the Fox 45 Clubhouse, has a good feel for storytelling, structure and dialogue. He creates characters you care about, particularly as played by Mulligan and Senatore, under Miriam Bazensky's direction.
The ending may be sentimental, but so is the ending of Schutzman's stark "Ghosts Play One." Although neither play is entirely satisfying, each provides an interesting glimpse of the need for a nuclear family in a world where, increasingly, the nucleus does not hold.
"Ghosts Play One" and "Abstract Purple"
Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through (( July 31
Call: (410) 276-7837