The Naked Angels Issues Projects have slowly become the gold standard for 10-minute-play festivals in New York: 2003's Fear showcased Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing), and 2005's Democracy featured a segment from Christopher Shinn's Dying City. It's anyone's guess what will be expanded upon or discovered at Armed and Naked in America, this year's Issues Project, but there are a number of strong contenders.
The best of the first week is probably Itamar Moses' deeply silly Szinhaz, in which Brian Avers and Bess Wohl play a Russian director and his muse at a lecture, where she "translates" his words for the crowd. Avers doesn't speak Russian, but his fake version is so funny and nuanced that it has to be heard to be believed, and Michelle Tattenbaum directs the pregnant silences beautifully.
Deirdre O'Connor's offering stands out as well: Hero, about a woman (Nancy McNulty) who has to leave her boyfriend to go off to Iraq. The role reversal works in unexpected ways: Steve (James McMenamin) worries about Natalie's safety, of course, but the cleverest moment comes when he casually unfolds all her underwear while wondering what sorts of guys she's going to meet in the Army. It could feel cute and overly clever, but the dialogue is so unforced and the stakes so immediate — she is packing to leave, after all — that the entire scene feels unexpectedly fresh.
The other plays vary. President and Man offers an odd and compelling take on the religiosity surrounding the office of the president; Sonnets for an Old Century makes great use of actor Zabryna Guevara, though the play sounds like a baccalaureate speech. The weak links are Myrtle Beach by frequent documentarian Dan Klores, a condescending piece about a dumb country soldier from North Carolina, and The Machine by Betty Shamieh, painfully didactic on the subject of censorship.
Overall, the experience is entertaining, even encouraging, with many half-known or unknown voices presenting fresh perspectives on some overworked issues. Not all the plays are political, but all of them, even the less accomplished ones, are held to admirably high writing standards.
Presented by the New 42nd Street, Naked Angels, and Dan Klores at the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 W. 42nd St., NYC. April 11-15. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 2 p.m. (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or www.telecharge.com.