The writer-director of such films as The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella takes a sometimes dim view of the human condition, which makes for engaging theatre in Politics of Passion. The production consists of three Minghella pieces — two that were done as radio plays in the 1980s and a cutting from his 1991 movie, Truly, Madly, Deeply. They have been sleekly mounted by the Potomac Theatre Project, which just moved to New York after 20 years in Washington, D.C. The company is also affiliated with Vermont's Middlebury College and mixes student actors with professionals.
The major play, Cigarettes and Chocolate, features a group of extremely talky Londoners — except for Gemma, that is, who's decided to stop speaking. Her mates spend considerable time pondering Gemma's condition, in often amusing conversations and monologues. Cluelessly, they detail her bottomless compassion for society's victims, from London's homeless to a monk who commits suicide protesting the situation in Tibet. So it's no spoiler to reveal, as Gemma tells the audience at closing, that she's retreated into silence to escape and protest the impotence of words.
The characters come to life in Minghella's evocative writing and — despite the veddy British accents that occasionally obscure words — a gallery of sharp performances. They include James Matthew Ryan as Rob, Gemma's unfaithful lover; Jesse Hooker as Alistair, haplessly besotted with love for Gemma; and Tara Giordano and Laura C. Harris as preoccupied gal pals. Cassidy Freeman's Gemma gives the play a mutely expressive center — mute except in her musings to the audience.
The other plays are essentially curtain raisers. Hang Up depicts a long-distance phone call between lovers in which the mistrust in their affair takes over. The selection from Truly, Madly, Deeply has a man and a woman blithely revealing all they can about themselves while hopping down a city block.
Director Cheryl Faraone, Potomac's co-artistic director, has staged things fluidly: Actors simply rearrange chairs and other furniture to suggest varied locales. The Potomac Theatre Project is a welcome addition to the New York theatre scene.
Presented by the Potomac Theatre Project
at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St., NYC.
June 26-July 14. Schedule varies.
(800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com.