One-acts are tricky. A tantalizing bit of plot becomes fully realized near the end of the scene, leaving the audience with a desire to dig deeper. Such is the case with these six one-acts, loosely based around family strife. Playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos makes the situations semi-believable; but, in the time allotted, only superficial reflection can take place.
In the puzzling opener, aging Louise (Barbara Bain) wanders aimlessly through the rubble of her burned-out former house. Her two grown children (D.B. Sweeney, Maggie Grant) remind her that she is going to be very late to her husband's memorial service, planned by them, but then they squabble among themselves about family issues that have a fairly anemic resolution. Following this is a snarky bit about a woman (an arch and feverish Molly Leland) who invites her husband's mistress (Julianna Robinson) over for dinner. Christopher Heltai plays the uncomfortable victim well, but it is a silly exercise that has an exceedingly pat ending.
Bain and Dennis Delsing follow this with a touching scene between a mother who can't face her husband's death from cancer and her son who needs to make her understand that letting go is the ultimate kindness. Both deliver palpable emotion. Next, Christopher Karbo and Christopher Eric Ruiz take to Las Vegas to persuade their dad, Herb (Bob Ebinger), to come home for his family birthday party. Herb's negative reasons seem much more compelling than his sons', so a slick ending finishes the dilemma.
In one of the most interesting scenes, a wealthy woman (D.J. Harner) tells her Episcopal priest (John Henry Richardson) that she will be leaving his parish, taking her money with her, if he doesn't change his negative stance on homosexuality. Because this is a familiar debate, it resonates and seems the most compelling piece in the set. Bain, Grant, and Larry Robbins finish up with a comic vignette as Grant catches her geriatric mother in flagrante delicto with her senior citizen boyfriend. Cute one-liners abound, but seeing Bain milking the scene for all it's worth makes it perfect for the ending.
Dan Berkowitz takes directing credit for the first and last scenes; Grant fills in on the others. The strong team of actors makes the most of the material, but a few directorial choices and the brevity of each scene call for fewer situations with more substance.
Presented by Three Roses Players and Venice Sky Productions at the Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. May 6–22. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (323) 960-5772. www.plays411.com/thickerthanwater.