Think of the Overtime Theater’s “The Ides of Texas” as happy-hour tapas of the San Antonio theatrical scene. Some of the original short plays, penned by local writers and staged by local directors, are light-and-sweet taste-bud tinglers that will leave a smile on your lips. Others — dark, spicy, savory — will engage altogether different, more profound regions of the palette. There ain’t much to ’em, so you needn’t worry if something arrives that isn’t your taste, or that was prepped less than the last dish — no harm done: The plate will soon be clean and you’ll be on to a more appetizing treat.
There are 12 of these smackerels altogether; the menu rotates. Sets of six are performed on alternating nights, but all will be available for your delectation at the matinee on Sunday, March 21. These plays represent the best of 40 works Overtime received in response to a call for plays about “a historical day when abrupt change had great repercussions.” (Ergo the play-fest title.)
I sampled Set #2 last Saturday, along with a respectable-sized crowd, considering the simultaneous Luminaria festivities. The nibbles included “Variations … #3,” “Jumping the Bridge,” “Dan the Man,” “Amy’s Last Shift,” “The Book of Judith,” and “Variations … #4.”
Playwright and director Edward Wise’s “Variations …” are clever, comedic, multimedia vignettes; quite frankly, I couldn’t get enough. Number 3, subtitled “The Problem With Conservatives,” commences the stage smorgasbord with projected video of a couple listening to right-wing talk radio in the car. The mustachioed husband is too busy singing the praises of Ann Coulter (“She thinks what I am unable to think!”) to notice that he is about to collide with a wild creature.
The couple exit the car and the video, to inspect the victim — Billy Muñoz, in full furry costume — lying prostrate on stage. Absurdity ensues: It’s a ruse, the beast is packing heat. “Eyes over here, woodland creature with a gun,” is not a line I will soon forget.
Things take a grave turn with “Jumping the Bridge,” written by C. Allen Wigginton and directed by Chris Champlin. A still of the Brooklyn Bridge sets the scene; a weeping man in a black coat ambles onto the bare black set. Any idiot knows what’s about to go down. But the appearance of a charcoal suit-wearing visitor — angel or demon? — throws in a sentimental kink.
“Dan the Man,” written by Marshall Naylor and co-directed by Amanda Bianchi and Edward Wise, is one part comedy, one part drama, and all science-fiction fable. The ghostly figure that materializes on stage left is really another scary-movie creeper: A zombie, covered with a white sheet. Dan (Muñoz) — reanimated, nearly nude, stiff — is not the surprise his Dr. Frankenstein’s girlfriend had hoped to encounter. Seized and taken to the shadowy laboratory in the dead of night by her scientist lover (Robert Jerdee), the periwinkle-pajama-clad woman (Liz Vermeulen) realizes she’s in fact dating the undead (emotionally, anyway).
Perhaps the most difficult offering to swallow in this set is “Amy’s Last Shift.” Playwright James Venhaus and director Vermeulen conjure the smoke-filled back room of a topless pastry shop, appropriately named Double D Donuts, “Home of the largest cups of coffee in town.” There, a motherly, long-time employee (Vermeulen) talks a wide-eyed, auburn-haired newbie, Amy (Bianchi), through the ups and downs of working in the seedy metropolis of the sex industry — albeit in a softer borough.
Any individual, especially in this economy, who’s hit that anything-for-a-paycheck point can understand the precarious nature of the situation: “The longer you’re here, the harder it becomes to explain the blank spot on your resume.” But when Amy does just what the play’s title suggests, her departure is written and performed with a whiff of self-righteousness that persons who have chosen a career in sex work might find demeaning.
There is a precariousness about the short World War II drama “The Book of Judith,” too, wrought by the jokey chit-chat of its lead female characters. However, jests that would have been met with silence pre-Inglourious Basterds are more-or-less acceptable humor fodder in James Peden’s revenge story, directed by Caralyn Snyder. Of course, the always-glamorous Christie Beckham can say whatever she likes as far as I’m concerned — her unmercifully delivered clincher takes the cake.
One last sweet “Variations…” treat signals that happy hour is coming to a close. “The Legend of Earl the Squirrel” is too succulent to spoil. Suffice to say: We’re in luck; the afterlife looks like a Lady Gaga video. Dig in! •