Any carnival worth its kewpie dolls always has a House of Fun with a variety of distortion mirrors. In some you look fat and ugly and in others skinny and funny. The original subject is recognizable in both views, but it is the nature of the optical caricature that fascinates.
In a pair of original one-act plays now at the Experimental Theatre, two freshmen have put some interesting characters in front of two mirrors of very different curvatures and come up with several skillful distortions.
The more successful of the two sketches is David Ansen's fanciful There's Been a Lot of it Around Lately. A large, silk-canopied bed dominates the set, making it easy to guess exactly what it is that is making the rounds.
Ansen's characters, a delightful collection of the absurd and the earthy, are all concerned with fostering love in their lives. But what fun Ansen has with the word love. A proper, rich Mother (Roberta Braucher), hopes her sickly daughter Christina (Valerie Clark) will always live by her book of proverbs and believe "God is Love." The doting and effete Father (Lance Lindabury) basks rapturously in his daughter's goodness, and drinks toasts "to her purity."
All is not sweetness and chastity, however. The maid (Bina Breitner) is having a not-so-discreet fling with a beatnik named Claude (Larry Gonick), and even Mother's cardinal virtues melt quickly into carnal pleasures in his agreeable arms.
Christina, who peeks from behind the covers to discover Mother with lover, is confused. How can God be love when love is such a down-to-the-floor proposition? No proverb fits the situation, but she learns, under Claude's tulelege, that being too polite prevents much delight. While modesty remains the best policy, the result is the "downfall of true love and the upsurge of sex."
Ansen's script is clever and pointed; his direction is imaginative even if his pace occasionally drags. Valerie Clark, whose pretty head is on the pillow most of the time, is a wonderful ham, and Roberta Braucher handles a delicate assignment well. Bina Breitner's lust didn't quite convince me, but Lance Lindabury's loving Daddy brought laughs even without lines. Larry Gonick is a patient and virile lover.
The companion piece on the program, Gloria and Lily by Ida Picker, takes a slice of a very different kind of life--a miserable restaurant in New York. Miss Picker's knife has a ragged edge, and she has produced an uneven piece of pie.
While her ear for dialogue is keen, her sense of direction falters. The various themes fail to fit together into a coherent fugue. Nonetheless, her characters are engaged in a sometimes sensitive search for meaning in their drab lives. Fred Willkie does a particularly fine job as Jake, a young garbage collector. Joel DeMott's performance as the waitress is fulled with nuance and her accent doesn't detract from her acting. Diane Kagan, who plays Gloria, one of the cooks, is less successful with the New York vulgar tongue, but Jaye Schulman as Lily, the other cook, is often compelling. William Roberts and Peter McKenzie are perhaps hurt more by the script than lack of effort. While both plays would profit from editing, each deserves an audience.