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Peas and Carrots

Presented by The Courthouse Theatre Company as part of the seventh annual New York International Fringe Festival at the Linhart Theater, 440 Lafayette St., NYC, Aug. 8-24.

Playwright Stephen O'Rourke and the Courthouse Theatre Company's Fringe entry is an entertaining divertissement reminiscent of an evening of David Ives plays.

The six short plays all have a rather twisted, "meta" feel to them, with characters sometimes blurring the distinction between play and audience. Typical are "Ginger's Season," in which a man (really an actor) is called out from the audience to participate in a play involving two English divas, and "Heartache—A Staged Reading," in which a gut-wrenching scene read from a full-length play devolves when the reader of stage directions gets overly enthusiastic about reading subtext (with the "playwright" aghast in the audience).

All the plays are considerably amusing, especially the timely "Westport," an hilarious piece involving an over-the-top, preppy Connecticut couple and an even preppier neighbor who are vainly trying to survive during a civil war. Dazed by the lack of golf and the dearth of liquor and consumer goods, they are finally provided with food rations (via UPS) involving bags of rice and flour, much to their confused chagrin. Where are the directions on the bag, they ask? What do we do with this stuff? Those so politically inclined will see this as a fitting comic rebuke to the sanctimoniousness of those who deign to rationalize aggression by providing superficial charity to victims.

Director Jase Draper's cast was excellent, though the pacing and energy on some of the pieces (especially "Ginger's Season") could perhaps have been more intense. Shining was Ellen Reilly, very sharp as the neighbor in "Westport" and again as a dysfunctional dater in the witty "Dinner Date." Shay Gines was also vivid in her roles, complementing Reilly particularly well in "Westport" (together with the talented and energetic Joel Van Liew). Finally, Kay Gayner displayed strong range, command, and professionalism in three different roles.

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