The level of quality in an evening of one-acts typically is varied, but all nine of the desk-themed 10-minute plays that comprise this Theatre 40 Writers Workshop production are, without exception, unworthy of being formally presented to the public. And, unwisely, the lineup moves from bad to worse -- in acting and writing -- as the 100 intermissionless minutes limp to an end.
The only mildly interesting offering is Richard Martin Hirsch's For the Sake of Argument, directed by Warren Davis. Three actors (Meredith Bishop, who gives the evening's most interesting performance, Steven Longmuir, and Skip Moore) attempt to condense a three-hour play to a few minutes by getting right to the heart of the conflict, while Bishop dissects the function of characters and plot development.
The one occasionally funny piece is Kristen Lazarian's Bad News, for which Richard Horvitz and Liz Bliss deliver vaudeville-style jokes as L.A. news anchors whose job is to report celebrity gossip instead of important events. Horvitz, with bursts of rage, earns a few laughs as the anchor who has had enough and won't take it anymore.
Christine Joëlle also provides occasional smiles in two less-than-sharp works, first as three receptionists in Diane Grant's The Procedure and then as a crooked travel agent in Alice Lunsford's Happy Trails. Joëlle is adept at accents and comic timing, though her co-stars in both plays can't keep up, leaving her unable to maintain the pace.
There are two serious plays, which are overly repetitive and lack believable conflict. Nalsey Tinberg's Tuskegee Man is about a man (Abner Genece, making the most of flat material) who doesn't trust his white doctor because of the cruel and deceitful experiments the U.S. government conducted on hundreds of African-American men at the Tuskegee Institute in the mid-20th century. Shirl Hendryx's The Interrogation involves U.S. soldiers in Iraq deciding whether to torture an Iraqi who may have important information.
The final two plays are difficult to watch. Gene Lesser's Quick n' Ready, about two men (Peter de Luca and Wayne Thomas Yorke) trying to market a Viagra-like drug made out of an animal stimulant, is so unfunny that it's hard to know whether it's a comedy or just purposely bizarre. And Hindi Brooks' The Desk Upstairs, which depicts a 14-year-old suicide bomber (Ariel Neydavoud) who finds out God (Jay Gerber) isn't what he expected, relies completely on one final joke, which almost didn't come at the performance reviewed because Gerber forgot many of his lines.
Much of the fault with this production lies with producers Brooks and Howard Teichman, who should have realized that it's unfair to charge even a minimal ticket price for material of this low caliber.
Presented by Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre,
241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Jun. 8-17.
(818) 693-0157. www.theatre40.org.