Three Men, One Woman, Five Plays

From the gritty verbosity of Mamet's American Buffalo to the grief and anxiety of Sam Shepard's Simpatico, theater director Jesse Kellerman '01 is not known for his lighter side. "I wanted to leave audiences shaken and stirred," Kellerman says of the two productions, presented last spring and fall, "not unlike an excessively mixed martini." But with his next production, a collection of short satires and farces on contemporary themes showing this weekend at the Adams House Pool Theater, Kellerman is making a major departure from his dramatic past. For in the thick of reading period stress, the director has assembled an all-star cast and crew for what may turn out to be the comedic event of the semester.

Kellerman's own script, Three Men One Woman, is named for the identical cast breakdown of the five short plays that compose the work. Though his previous productions have been admired for their haunting realism and nuanced portrayals of human weakness and emotion, 3M1W features a group of characters that includes everything from mad scientists and senior citizens to government officials and secretaries to beer-guzzling down-home boys. Kellerman bypassed common casting in order to hand-pick his actors. John Keefe '01, used to performing in musicals, acted alongside Kellerman in Children of Eden earlier this year; Jonathan Steinberger '00 won recognition last spring for the shocking verisimilitude of his portrayal of a junkie in Buffalo; David Modigliani '01, an IGP veteran, has natural comedic gifts; and Catherine Gowl '02 was universally admired for the depth and expressivity of her role as Cecilia in Simpatico (not to mention the touching hilarity she brought to the character of Bananas in this semester's Mainstage production of The House of Blue Leaves).

Playing five wholly different parts is a challenging exercise in spontaneity and stamina, but Kellerman thinks his actors can live up to the endeavor. "Most of all," the director says, "these actors are smart. They have taken hold of their roles, truly creating characters." As the writer of his own script, Kellerman appreciated the opportunity to engage the actors in a dynamic process of verbal revision and growth. "If a line falls flat," Kellerman notes, "I can say, 'Let's cut it or try something else.'" On the other hand, if one of the performers delivers an impromptu funny punch, Kellerman can incorporate it right into the script. That kind of interactivity between director and performer can do wonders for the authenticity of drama, and in comedy it becomes even more essential in maintaining the high level of energy and mobility that the form demands. More importantly, it contributes to the anything-goes attitude that shines through in performance when the audience recognizes that the players are having as much fun acting as they are watching.

Taking for its targets science, government, literature, fashion and the modern institution of poker, 3M1W hopes to offend and mock, revealing the hidden absurdities behind our carnivalesque world. It may be well worth it to abandon Chemistry or Ec for a night and check out this promising show.

3M1W is playing at the Adams House Pool Theater on May 11 and 12 at 8 p.m., May 13 at 7 and 9:15 p.m. and May 14 at 2 p.m.