The Shelterbelt Theatre’s 13th year of staging new romance-themed short plays, leading up to Valentine’s Day, delivers a relatively short program. Never sticky-sweet, it ranges from bittersweet to broadly funny.
Just six scripts were chosen for “From Shelterbelt With Love 13,” even though more than 160 were submitted. The result is a 70-minute, intermissionless show that touches on death, abuse, impotence, reincarnation, family dynamics, a sci-fi future and, just for fun, a dash of silly in which kitchen objects come to life.
One script, by Omahan Molly Welsh, plays in two segments, bookending the five other playlets. “Room 6” takes us to a hospital room where a man (Ed Cutler) is dying. His son (Mark Vondrasek) and grandson (Jonathan Carlson) visit. He appears to see things we can’t before he dies.
The second part of the playlet lets us in on what the dying man sees and what transpires after he expires. How you interpret that gives “Room 6” its meaning. The result is that the rather sober first segment ends with a bit of a thud. The payoff comes in the end. Jon Roberson, as Death, and Katie Kasher, as the Reaper, join the earlier cast members.
Brendan J.D. Reilly, another Omaha playwright on the bill, wrote “Curious Mind/Beating Heart/Certified Love Drug,” a humorous bit in which a married couple (Amy Schweid, Vondrasek) deal with his impotency. In a solo opening, she turns to sex toys and Craig’s List. When he shows up, he has fertility boosters in tow. The piece makes a clever point about the aspect of lovemaking that’s psychological, rather than physiological.
In “Kitchen Sink,” by John C. Davenport, a knife (Demian Ryder) cries on the shoulder of a dishwashing sponge (Cutler) after being romantically spurned by a spoon. The sponge argues that knives should pair with forks, but Knife is just a butter knife, feeling a bit inadequate. When a cute plastic fork (Teri Truscott) enters the picture, there’s hope a sort of parity might be achieved. Cutler, with his East Coast accent, and Ryder, with his angst, are a funny pairing.
A personal favorite: “The Silent Treatment,” by Jack Karp, in which we see a pair of mimes (Roberson, Kasher) both during a performance and after, taking off their makeup but continuing to relate to each other through silent moves. He’s a charmer. She’s having none of it. Roberson and Kasher are quite good at mime, and the story has an effective “aha” moment.
“Searching,” by Owen Panettieri, takes a leap into the future, when a microchip can store the memory of a deceased man. Kasher is a recent widow, seeking answers to haunting questions about her marriage. Ryder is excellent as an emotionless but polite cyborg in which the husband’s microchip has been planted. Their conversation could comfort or devastate this widow, and Kasher effectively transmits emotional fragility.
In Erin Austin’s “Sisters by Law,” a pregnant woman (Kaitlin Maher) visits her husband’s sister (Truscott). Each wants something from the other. Neither wants to give what the other wants. Paybacks turn out to be no fun, with a funny point about the shifting definition of family driven home via Maher’s little sister (Schweid).
Amy Schweid, Beth Thompson and Julia Hinson each directed two of the playlets.