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FALLING TOGETHER, COMING APART

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ough this production company calls itself "The Theatre for a Difference," there's very little different about the pleasant but unexceptional one-act plays that make up this bill. The caliber of the acting is high, but the vignettes are, for the most part, sadly inconsequential; even the most comparatively strong pieces are little more than abbreviated skits. The two most appealing sketches inevitably recall episodes of The Twilight Zone. In playwright Mark Harvey Levine's "Scripted," a young couple (Michael Cotter and Gabrielle Wagner) awaken one morning to find lying by their bed a screenplay, which mysteriously details everything they're going to say or do that day. The pair's panic as they see the mundane drivel of their day reduced to a few pages of script is hilarious, and director Jamie McMurray keeps the gags rolling at a crackling pace. Cotter and Wagner's interactions are nicely affectionate, as well. Levine's other contribution to the bill, "The Jar," finds a group of insects forced to work together to escape the bottle into which they've been tossed by a little boy. The plot here is lighter than a dragonfly's wing, but the pleasure comes from watching the cast mug it up as various insects. John Del Regno as the jive-talking Daddy Long-Legs, Leslie Thurston as a Bible-thumping praying mantis, Cotter as a macho ladybug, and Christopher Snell as a prissy cricket are tremendously funny. Some engagingly multidimensional acting is on display in Terence Anthony's "Citizen Bernie," about a foul-mouthed but kindhearted bartender (Del Regno), who assists a bashed male hustler (Alex Endeshaw). Although Anthony's script layers on the clichés like Mayo on a club sandwich, director Elizabeth Cava creates a vividly gritty mood, and Del Regno and Endeshaw are genuinely moving. Strong performances also anchor playwright Josh Schiowitz's otherwise clumsily soap operatic "Hurry, the Train is Leaving," about an unexpected reunion between two high school pals (Thurston, Josie DiVicenzo), who unexpectedly meet on a commuter train. The pair's tender friendship is nicely depicted in director Will Willoughby's intimate staging; less well-rendered is the storyline, which is a clumsy pastiche of unlikely revelations and sloppy emotional beats. Schiowitz's "London Reunion," in which a man (McMurray) is confronted in his hotel room by a menacing ex-lover (Snell), is a confusing and unbelievable vignette that doesn't hold together logically. And the same can be said for Schiowitz's frustratingly lame "The Message," a fragmented mini-drama about a woman (DiVicenzo) grieving for her lost lesbian lover (Kelly Briscoe). "Falling Together/Coming Apart," presented by Theatre for a Difference, at the Rose Alley Theatre, 318 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Nov. 13-Dec. 13. $13-15. (323) 650-301

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