This is a pair of one-act plays that share a theme: choice between fantasy and reality. In playwright/director Terry McFadden's Elvis Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the choice is the glamorous world of Elvis Presley or a mundane existence of bills, family life, and odious responsibility. Likeably irresponsible Mickey (McFadden) dreams of being a top-ranked Elvis impersonator and has a regular weekly act at a seedy bar. His fed-up wife, Ann Marie (Steffanie Thomas), who slaves to keep the family afloat with a tedious teaching gig, quite understandably wants him to quit all his foolishness and get a job selling insurance. Chaos erupts as needs clash, and Mickey finds himself being forced to defend his inner child.
McFadden's play is a funny, ironic exploration of the Peter Pan personality. The writing is surprisingly wise and trenchant: We sympathize with Ann Marie even as we secretly pull for Mickey. McFadden and Thomas' interplay is unusually sprightly; Mickey's hilariously puppyish demeanor proves the perfect touchstone for Ann Marie's rage.
In playwright-director Robert Vestal's The Key to the Fourth Wall, the hero's choice is literal. Young bride-to-be Tanya (Nicole Areu) rages at her groom, Mike (Jonathan Pier Durante), who got cold feet at the altar. She gives him until 9 to make up his mind and marry her. Just as we think we are navigating traditional romantic-comedy terrain, the young couple discovers a mysterious door that leads from the world of the play into the real world, complete with audience interaction. The show's focus then becomes whether the couple will go back to their safe life or remain in multidimensional Los Angeles, seeking more exciting pastures.
The broken fourth wall adds a twist to what would otherwise be a slim and rather frail minor comedy. As it is, the contrast between the world of the play and the real word is droll and hilariously horrifying. Although one wishes that the writing dug deeper into the weird Pirandelloesque contextual backdrop, Vestal's staging is quick paced and ingenious, cleverly making use of the tiny theatre space. Durante is charmingly neurotic as the indecisive groom, and Areu believably evolves from a flimsy romantic comedy character into a real live human.
"…Left the Building," presented by See-Sharp Productions at the Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner, Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7-Dec. 20. $12. (323) 960-7665.