When you take your seat at The Tank for Rule of 7x7, an evening of seven new plays each following the same seven rules, you may think you overstepped the theater and stumbled into a reunion for an extremely large and unusually loving family. The space is bursting with mostly young people dashing about on the stage and weaving through the seats, all hugging and laughing with unrestrained joy. If you're like me, you get skeptical. Seven short plays times seven tribes of playwright and actor friends and lovers? Oh, dear. A sea of built-in admiration and audience howling, for sure.
Stick around. The lights do come down and what you get is an evening often outright funny, always clever, and occasionally touching. In a kind of theatrical challenge dance, all seven writers require that certain bits of business occur within each 10-15 minute play: a frantic door knocking, a character applauding a line from another, things like that. It's fun, although a forced reference to "my old stomping grounds" is a snag; sorry, playwright Matt Cox, but the phrase is too antiquated to be seamless. While I'm carping, some of the very brief works would benefit from deft cutting. There's good stuff in Seth Moore's In the Hat, a madcap treatment of PBS stardom and space/time, and in Mr. Cox's Jake & Dennis Solve Problems: The Sad, Adult Years, but each little play seems to slip out of the playwright's grasp by, say, minute nine.
Stand-outs? A lot. Rachael Mason's The Recital is a polished and tragically satiric twist on a Dorothy Parker-ish scenario of couple desperation; Abby Rosebrock's Out of Control offers an outrageously funny veneer over a vignette both bleak and hopeful; and Dan McCabe's Orlando is somehow a two-act evening scrunched into minutes and sacrificing no humor, poignancy, or even depth. Brett Epstein's Improv with Old People is a stunner, fiercely comic and ultimately moving. And Jeff Ronan's opener, Cat Call, sets the bar very, very high. That it does this relying on a standardized encounter renders the truth of the characters, the wit, and the naturalness all the more impressive. As to performances: take extra bows, Bradley Anderson, Layla Khoshnoudi, Alex Gould, Alex Herrald. Mr. Ronan, take a solo call. You are that good, as writer and actor.
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