Cheek to cheek

Romancing a pagan and a Poe.


Union Garage, 1418 10th, 720-1942, $12 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and Mon., Jan. 28 ends Sat., Feb. 2

LOVE IS STRANGE, Theater Babylon's evening of two one-act plays, is one half of a good evening pondering the vicissitudes of the human heart.

In Marcy Rodenborn's All Acts of Love and Pleasure, a modern-day pagan (Anni Bluhm) tries to tempt a nervous, door-to-door missionary (Josh Hartvigson) from a Koresh-like Christian sect. Unfortunately, it would be more interesting if Rodenborn looked upon the earnest Christian with the same crooked smile she grants the hip pagan, and if he were allowed to sound vaguely human, too, instead of sputtering precious interjections like "gee willikers!" The weak verbal sparring doesn't go much beyond the level of "daring" '70s sitcoms ࠬa Love, American Style; a wacky witch and a virginal Bible-thumper go head-to-head and, oh, what mismatched chaos!

Director Kassie Misiewicz struggles gamely to gain a foothold in some middle ground between froth and naturalism. It's hard to tell if Hartvigson, encouraged to stammer and squirm from the moment he arrives, would ever have been able to pull off the unlikely task of appearing real, but Bluhm, left to her own devices, has something to offer—she's levelheaded, with a firm, dark voice and a way with a dry line that suggests she can give more than she's getting.

The creative team behind the night's second effort has a better time of it with Amy Freed's Claustrophilia. Freed, represented recently at the Rep with a mishandled staging of her Shakespeare rumination The Beard of Avon, has an elastic, astonishing adeptness with homage—her plays are rumpled comic valentines to the struggles of literary giants trying to balance the combative passions of life and art. Here she spins a tale within a tale about Edgar Allan Poe (Jerry Lloyd) the way Poe would have written it. He's regaling us with a memory of his cloistered, impoverished existence with child bride Sissy (Terisa Greenan), a girl so afraid of sex that he must resort to stimulating her with his morbid, ludicrously verbose horror stories and ever-darker physical torments (she's positively orgasmic after a night locked in the closet). When Sissy's vivid deliriums begin to outrun Poe's, Freed, as usual, starts to push the conceit too far, but her own verboseness is held firmly in check here by Eric Ray Anderson's nimble direction, two fine performances (Lloyd does a big, spoofy Poe, and Greenan has a capricious glimmer in her eyes), and the austere elegance of Brad Cook's picture-frame set design.

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