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Cabfare for the Common Man

This collection of seven pieces, springing from the accomplished pen of Mark Harvey Levine, has a marvelous consistency generally lacking in sketch shows. The omnipresent clock, the occasional heartbeat sounds, and the eponymous piece--with the ensemble in a cab ride as a metaphor for life--these are your guideposts. Speaking of ensemble, this is a group that has worked together for quite some time in various configurations, and it shows. Save for one structurally ambitious but not wholly successful offering, the performances are perfectly attuned to the writing.

In spite of his big picture, Levine doesn't get locked into any particular tone, so the evening has a pleasing variety to it. "Surprise," for instance, is a classic sketch in which a comic premise plays to a satisfying conclusion. In this instance, shockingly blue-eyed David Garry plays a man who is psychic, but only for two minutes ahead, so it serves more as annoyance than clairvoyance to his departing girlfriend (Julie Wittner). Enter the waitress with the darkly dramatic eyes (Diane Weinberger), and we have resolution and happiness. The opening piece, on the other hand, plays as comic suspense. Simon (Tom Bottelsen) awakens to find a script on the nightstand that has every word he and his wife Elaine (the delightful Claire Partin) are going to say that day. Where did it come from? How trapped in their day are they? I've sat through movies with less of a premise. "The Rental," in which Sonya (Aimee Guichard, adorable) gets the gift of 16 hours of a perfect boyfriend (Jay Convente, equally so) on her birthday, plays like a fun summer film but in 10 minutes. It's sweet, silly, and covers a lot of ground in a short time.

A bit longer and a few shades darker is "Superhero," a touching riff on personal fear. David Cheaney plays the superhero-in-training, while Becky Meister embodies the collection of phobias across the hall. Neither succumbs to the inherent pathos, and the two create something quite lovely. I suppose it's inescapable that one piece will look like a scene from Friends and in this instance it's "The Kiss." Dennis (Greg Albanese) wants his friend Allison (Jeanne Heileman) to render a cool assessment of his osculatory skills before he leaves on a date, and it takes but one successful smooch to put her under his spell because, of course, a man wrote the piece.

Only "Thing Quartet" dismays as Doreen Calderon, Carlen Reese Crate, Rita Renee, and Diane Weinberger meander about in a word symphony. It's not nearly tight enough, though, and it's hard to tell now if those pauses are interludes or just gaps. Each woman is a character, but sketchy, and not in the good sense.

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