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      Depth of Sight
    Coming up short

    "Depth of Sight," three one-acts by the writer of last year's inventive "Ballad of Phineas P. Gage," seldom offers the kind of tension and conflict that short plays need to work.


    Avant pop productions presents "Depth of Sight," three short plays by writer Crystal Skillman, whose last year's show "The Ballad of Phineas P. Gage" was a quirky, puppet-filled romp that introduced an exciting new talent. Skillman's short plays, while full of interesting characters and promising setups, lack the dramatic conflict that makes a one-act pop.

    Written by: Crystal Skillman.
    Directed by: Jose Zayas, Jerry Ruiz, Tim Farrell.
    Cast: Michael Etheridge, Catherine Gowl, Nina Hellman, Billie James, Mark Kinch, Michael LiDondici, Aaron Lisman, Meg MacCary, Mariana Newhard, Christian Rummel, Chime Day Serra.
    Sound design by: Todd Polenberg.
    Set design by: Alison Brummer.
    Video by: Josh Pelzek.
    145 Sixth Ave.
    Previews start: March 27, 2003
    March 29 - April 13, 2003

    First up is "Turn Four," directed by Jose Zayas, centering on a conversation between a father and his two sons as they zip around a racetrack. A great premise inspired by Dale Earnhart's last ride, this play misses the opportunity to create a la "Charlie Victor Romeo" the intense pressure in the driver's seat as a vehicle is about to crash. The dialogue between the three characters seems more appropriate for a family barbecue and improbable for such a tension-filled situation.

    "Translation of Signs," directed by Jerry Ruiz, was my favorite although it was alternately the most tedious and the most interesting of the three works. Introducing several compelling ideas about language, destiny and voyeurism — a salesman is hired to translate the untranslateable and meets a couple about to be married and a damaged bartender along the way. A memorable image in this play, is the self-mutilating bartender pulling off her long scab and pressing it onto the forearm of the salesman. Clearly not meant to follow traditional story structure and hinting at Foremanesque randomness, this play is caught between two forms and doesn't quite approximate the intelligent conversations one imagines were behind the crafting of this work.

    The third play, "In the Wild," directed by Tim Farrell, had the most narrative drive as three scenes play out in the woods — two women, presumably lovers camping out together wearing pajamas and fleeing the sound of wild boars, a forest ranger teaching a housewife about the wild, and a nutty but beautiful little girl ranting on a rock looking for her mother (whom she finds in the soon-to-be-abandoned housewife).

    Skillman favors long monologues for her characters which contribute to the lack of tension in these pieces, and in fact, when there is dialogue between the characters — as in between the various sets of lovers in the third piece — the pace picks up considerably. The 11 actors in the three shows were uniformly capable in their roles — in particularly Nina Hellman as the outward-bound housewife, Billie James as the lipstick lesbian, Marianna Newhard as the lonely bartender and Chime Day Serra as the Salesman and later as Clarence the forest tour guide. Skillman's characters have strong potential — from racecar driver to abandoned housewife to scab-pulling bartender. Her exploration of the meaning of language also indicates a thinking woman's playwright is at work here. A more sophisticated story structure and dialogue over monologue would push these plays into the next gear.

    APRIL 8, 2003

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