Proving that good things come in small bunches, Little Fish Theatre’s “Pick of the Vine: Season 9,” asks whether we can be entertained by nine playlets in two hours. Yes we can. Well-conceived and -crafted scripts (some as brief as five minutes) and truthful acting ensure an inebriating experience, with something for everyone, even conspiracy theorists.
The overall sense of the enterprise feels monumental and improvised. Monumental for the gamut of human experience its conveys, improvised for its simple sets, small, fishbowl stage, and acting that doesn’t feel like acting.
A few stories are funny, a few are sad. One’s eerie while a couple play games of “What-If?” We laugh, we rejoice, and we want to cry. The humor is physical, verbal, and situational. The drama is sci-fi weird and, at times, unbearably sad.
The stories address Big Questions. They animate, if not skewer, more pedestrian ones. Their sequencing makes us think, feel, elate, and empathize. The first half gets rolling with a man and a woman trapped in a revolving door (“Stuck, by Christopher Lockheardt, directed by Gina Stickley) and concludes with “Veronica’s Test of Worthiness,” by Eddie Zipperer, directed by Margaret Schugt: an outlandish dinner party that combines “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” with “The Addams Family” and “La Cage Aux Folles.” The second half picks up with the Rod Sterling “Night Gallery”-esque “Trace Evidence,” written by Jeff Stewart, directed by Don Scholssman, and concludes with “Scripted,” by Mark Harvey Levine, directed by Schugt: an inquiry into whether Life Scripts exist and, if they do, if they can be rewritten.
The cast is versatile (eight actors, nine plays: a lot of doubling up), its chemistry is good, and their acting is utterly believable. Were it one play we’d call it a formidable ensemble performance. As it’s not, let’s call each performance notably notable. Rachel Levy and Bill Wolski in “Stuck.” Holly Baker-Kreiswirth and Wolski in “The True Story of How We Met,” written by Daniel Heath, directed by Jim Rice, and of Mary-Margaret Lewis and Scott G. Hartman in “Broad Daylight,” a play that begins one way and then becomes one of the saddest things you’ll ever see. Likewise with Daryl Hogue France and Scot Renfro in “Slipping Into Anarchy,” written by Jeffrey Wolf, directed by Jim Rice. The priceless reaction of the parents of the character played by Levy - France and Renfro - when she suddenly announces “I Thought I Liked Girls,” written by Nicole Pandolfo, directed by Schugt. (“I went to all those pride parades for nothing!”). And the verbal flim-flam of “Rest Assured,” by George M. Johnson, directed by Wolski, makes you wish there was a physical equivalent to phone spam’s Do Not Call for door-to-door solicitors.
The theatrical equivalent of speed dating, the nine shows will make you fall in love with stories told by actors with words and gestures. It doesn’t get more basic than this.
Performances are 8pm, Fri. & Sat., 7pm Sun. The show runs until Feb. 19. Tickets are $25. The Theatre is located at 777 Centre Street, San Pedro. For more info call (310) 512-6030 or visit www.littlefishtheatre.org.