Orlando Sentinel

Small plays tackle big issues

- Matthew J. Palm Theater & Arts Critic mpalm@orlandosen­tinel.com.

Playwright­s’ Round Table has its usual grab bag of short-attention-span theater with “Launch 2020,” a collection of eight mini-plays, all roughly about 10 minutes in length. As is typical in a mixed program, some hit the mark more than others. In this outing, both silly comedies and heartfelt dramas make the most impact.

Adam Szudrich’s “Rosa and Leo” is the most fully realized of the offerings, grabbing the attention with its opening scene in which Rosa (Cindy Karr) slams the phone down on Leo (Mark Davids) with the single word, “Liar.” But Leo has her number, both literally and figurative­ly, and he dials again in this unconventi­onal romance of the heartbreak­ing kind.

The two met in a German concentrat­ion camp and haven’t seen each other in decades. And in just a few moments, this exquisitel­y crafted look at the lives of two characters who endured the unthinkabl­e encompasse­s the big issues: betrayal, loyalty, forgivenes­s, love. Directed with care by Kate Denson, it’s beautifull­y performed.

Jackie Martin’s “Hallmark Doesn’t Make Cards for Us” likewise touchingly but not mawkishly concerns itself with forgivenes­s. Can a mother (Rockie Kobrin) ever make up for the sins of the past? Director Sally Daykin nicely contrasts Kobrin’s quietness against the more volatile Kaley Kicmal, playing a daughter for whom old wounds have never healed.

More fine acting is on view in Dan O’Day’s “The Last Word,” compassion­ately directed by Paul Castaneda. Jessica Fernando and Eric Kuritzky are instantly relatable as daughter and father grappling with aging, memories and legacy. It’s an intriguing­ly clearheade­d look at the struggle of growing old — from the viewpoint of two generation­s.

On the comedy side, Ava Love Hanna’s “Big Brad Wolf ” is a winner. The silly romp imagines what would happen if the evil fairy-tale wolf of “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood” renounced his ways. The writing is smart. “You taste like parental guilt, like fear of change,” the Wolf (James Blaisdell in a spot-on performanc­e) tells a pig. And that’s this play’s kick: Under the funny jokes, it has something to say about dreamers — the people who follow their own paths and don’t let tradition or society’s pressures stand in their way.

Bethany Dickens’ direction keeps the energy high, and bonus points for a slyly ambiguous ending.

Fringe veteran Katie Thayer’s “Dying Laughing,” directed by Rob Cunha, doesn’t go for depth — except for the fact that its two protagonis­ts are buried undergroun­d. This silly collection of puns and nonsense is delivered with panache by Nathan James and Chris Scott, though the show could use a bigger end punch.

Likewise, “The Satin Worshipper­s” is acted with pizazz, especially by Durell Brown, who demonstrat­es keen comic timing. But director Rochelle Curbow Wheeler hasn’t set the pace quite fast enough for playwright Peter Dakutis’s silliness. On the other hand, I have to approve of comedy based on a spelling error. Brown also appears in Bethany Dickens’

“Sheba,” a sex-driven comedy directed by Isabella James that doesn’t give the audience any reason to care about its characters, making it hard to invest in their story.

Finally, Molly Smith’s “The Doll” goes for a “Twilight Zone” feel with a couple’s quest to create a perfect baby. But the play, directed by Chuck Dent, verges on offputting with its focus on wholly unlikable people. And, strangely, the climax is given away by the title.

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