¡Americanize!, the four one-acts presented by Living Image Arts Theater Company, might make a lot more sense if the opener, Robert Askins' Anger and the Doughnut, was lopped off. It's a two-hander in which a domineering septuagenarian mom (Nancy Franklyn) and her depressed, overweight daughter (Kelli Lynn Harrison) play power games and throw food around. Both are thoroughly Americanized white trash, and this curtain-raiser is sort of a sitcom 'Night, Mother without the suicide. In an evening that (the press release says) aims to answer the question, "Finding it hard to find your way in the America of today?," it offers no clues. I don't know what it's doing here.
The other three all deal with immigrants in modern-day America, though to varying degrees. Maria Gabriele's Graceful Living plays like a low-rent Desperate Housewives, with a gentle, sorrowful Hungarian expatriate (Jelena Stupljanin) interacting with two insane suburban neighbors (Julie Fitzpatrick and Katya Campbell) united in recent tragedy. Fitzpatrick's jagged vocal rhythms and angular body language are a hoot, but Gabriele has awkwardly structured the extended skit as a series of monologues followed by naturalistic dialogue. Director Holli Harms' staging is also awkward, with much aimless pacing around and downstage delivery. The three women are intriguing, though, and Fitzpatrick's Charlie's Angels–obsessed Mrs. Mesmer is a delight.
Easily the most successful one-act is C.S. Hanson's Charles Winn Speaks, in which a successful Russian hedge-fund manager (the excellent Christopher Kipiniak) videotapes a response to the American girlfriend who just dumped him. It's an American dream gone wrong, the aggressive yet tender and appealing businessman left with everything but the girl, and it's blessed with some up-to-the-minute hedge-fund jokes milked to the max by Kipiniak.
Tony Zertuche's Dirt takes us to the Texas border, where a racist mayor (Ryan D. Lee) campaigns on a no-immigrants platform while some sympathetic Mexicans and Guatemalans toil in a textiles factory and are harassed by the wetback-hating locals. The mayor's a caricature, and Zertuche's writing is remarkably unsubtle. The current American immigrant experience is a rich topic, but these one-acts attack it haphazardly and unevenly.
Presented by Living Image Arts Theater Company
at the Lion Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.
April 24–May 9. Wed. and Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.
(212) 279 4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.