These two one-acts by Elliot Shoenman, best known for his work on TV sitcoms (Home Improvement, Maude), are so very different that a casual observer might think they were composed by different writers. Above the Fold centers on two rival sports writers, both of whom work for the old New York Herald Tribune. They're threatened by rumored cutbacks that will force the paper to terminate one of them. Lefty (Lars Jackson) is an irascible, cantankerous, highly competitive, yet deeply sentimental man, while Manny (Howard S. Miller) is more tolerant, equable, and sensible. But when their competitive instincts kick in, they're reduced to vying over who can write the worst copy. Young writer Diane (Stacy Keanan) is attempting to interview both men for a prospective book about veteran sports writers, despite their prickly eccentricities. The script is rich, gentle, affectionate, humane, perceptive, and engaging, despite its low-keyed approach. Red Flags is a sitcomlike farce, with pretensions to political satire, about high-handed attempts by the CIA to force the Betsy Ross Flag Co. to manufacture Chinese flags to compete with China's manufacture of American flags — and to use up an overstock of banned Red Dye No. 2. It's the kind of comedy that recklessly abandons logic and reason in pursuit of laughs. A CIA agent (Penny Peyser) is given the surname Orange so she can be referred to as Agent Orange. Even more improbable is the sudden romance between the manager of the Betsy Ross Flag Co. (Keanan) and the male CIA operative (Daniel Taylor) who has attempted to revoke her passport, citizenship, and Social Security number. Tacked-on gags about Sarah Palin and the economic meltdown don't help. Director Mark L. Taylor nimbly adjusts his sights to the varying requirements of the two plays, and Keanan is a bright comic presence in both. Jackson provides a rich portrait of the contradictory Lefty, while Miller is equally adept at depicting the staidly compassionate and reasonable Manny. Peyser contributes a stylish turn as Agent Orange, and Taylor strives mightily to make sense of a silly role.
Presented by the Inkwell Theater at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Sep. 26-Oct. 26. (866) 811-4111. www.inkwelltheater.com.