Edward Albee and Harold Pinter may not seem to have a lot in common with "Rosemary's Baby," but the influence of all three is felt in "Telling the 'Rents."
Written by Vince LiCata, "Telling the 'Rents" is the boldest and most imaginative of the trio of one-act plays being presented at Fell's Point Corner Theatre as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.
Directed in a broad, cartoony fashion by Carol Mason, the play's surrealistic sitcom aura is established immediately. In the opening scene, a young couple stares, as if in a trance, at a television set. The next scene begins with them tossing out a lot of Pinteresque single-syllable questions and answers: Well? Well? Yes. Yes. When? Which? etc.
The couple turns out to be expecting a baby, and the questions concern when and how to tell their parents. When Lloyd (Michael Stricker), the expectant father, suggests they arm themselves before breaking the news to his in-laws, his lovely wife, Christina, played by a perky Mary Anne Perry, cheerfully slugs him.
The television set and touch of violence are clues, carefully planted to prepare us for the bizarre events that occur after Christina's parents arrive. Arthur Laupus, as Christina's father, and Mary Cinnamon, as her mother, appear even jollier than their daughter. But it soon becomes clear that Christina's devilish father has gruesome ideas -- and a few supernatural powers -- that not only suggest "Rosemary's Baby," but would put the murderous parents in Albee's "The American Dream" to shame.
I'm not going to give away any more details of LiCata's clever plot, except to say that one of its joys is that just when everything seems resolved, the playwright throws in another twist. Although this black comedy is extremely funny, it also raises some important issues -- including the nature of parent-child relationships, abortion rights, adoption and the potentially insidious power of television.
The other two one-acts are, coincidentally, closely related -- so much so that occasionally the same wording pops up in each. Both Joe Dennison's "Blue Interview" and Mark Scharf's "Lizard Brains" are about rock singers confronting their pasts.
In "Blue Interview," the more fully realized of the two, an over-the-hill rocker named Syd Blue -- played by Mark Squirek with the requisite sarcasm, ennui and outrageousness -- reluctantly agrees to an interview with an eager young reporter (Erin Jakowski).
Although the outcome of this interview session is predictable, Dennison's script -- and the performances of Squirek and Jakow- ski, under Lee Sapperstein's direction -- make it credible as well. And, in the process, the characters learn and grow. Some of the language is a bit raw, but such is rock and roll, and Dennison does have a knack for turning a phrase. ("I had a solo career, so low you couldn't hear it," Syd says while guzzling Jack Daniels from the bottle.)
Directed by Bill Kamberger, "Lizard Brains" is the slightest of the three shows -- more a sketch than a one-act play. It does have one marvelous scene, however, in which the vengeful Lisa persuades Corey to let her give him a shave. She does -- with a straight razor -- while she expresses her pent-up venom at the way he treated her.
All three playwrights are festival veterans, and the work they've done here shows that they are continuing to hone their already promising abilities. If you want to get an idea of the range and talent behind this 14-year-old festival, Fell's Point Corner's three-part evening would be a fine place to start.
Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays; through July 23
Call: (410) 276-7837