Theater of NOTE's late-night show consists of 10 one-act plays, each no longer than five minutes. You'd think five minutes is not nearly long enough to say anything interesting or meaningful. Yet each of the 10 writers packs an amazing amount of dynamic theatricality into a comparatively small space—and each of the 10 full mini-productions are strikingly, flamboyantly original, powerful, and involving.
The playets are wide-ranging in subject matter. In Jack O'Donnell's droll Greer's First Precept, a prep school professor (Dean Lemont) delivers his final, semi-bitter lecture on the eve of his being fired for demanding too much from his students. Director Rich Werner's staging is swift and comically precise, and Lemont offers an intriguingly deft and multidimensional character portrait as the prissy, pompous, yet ultimately surprisingly likeable teacher. By contrast Stephen McFeely's Collision Theory, in which an intellectual man (David Conner) uses ruthlessly logical reasoning to break up with his wife (Lynn Odell), is searing in its poignancy and the breathtakingly stark simplicity of the emotions being manipulated.
In Bill Robens' Saturday Night Live-like blackout skit, Too Many Hitlers, Hitler is transported through time and forced to live in the home of a typical 1950s sitcom family. Wonderfully funny writing, quirky direction by Dorie Barton, and a flat-out bizarre musical number by a lounge singer (Kiff Scholl) combine to create an outlandish and endlessly imaginative comic treat. Juxtaposing Jonathan Klein's terrifying Hitler with Odell's and Alina Phelan's suburban mother and daughter makes the sketch as funny as it is eccentric. Phelan's Void Occupied uses a TV game show as the framing device to recount a brutal rape: This is a potentially shocking drama that's somewhat marred by the pretentious surrealism of Lisa Anne Morrison's staging and by its failure to identify the show's bona fide central figure.
Also vivid, intense, and unexpectedly imaginative are Janis Hashe's loopy No Telling, in which an atrocious standup comedian (Mark Chaet) harasses a meditating guru (Rebecca Gray), and Love Is Steak, an offbeat spoof of pretentious late-night theatre. Greg Wall's Rondo, a scattershot vignette in which a hideously deformed man finds success in Hollywood, is innovatively structured and unexpectedly touching, even though the hero of the piece is never seen. And Andrew Bragen's Lazy, in which a woman (Kelsey Wedeen) tries to manipulate her male hustler/lover (Werner), shows how the balance of power shifts in a relationship.
The old saw about the weather in Chicago—"If you don't like it, wait 10 minutes and it'll be something different"—also applies to this set of one-act plays. However, with each scene crisply written and beguilingly performed, you'll wish you could spend more time in each one's dramatic universe.
"If You Don't Know, I'm Not Going to Tell You," presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 11 p.m. July 12-Aug. 17. $10. (323) 856-8611.