Three Plays by Dennis Moritz

Theatre Double, last week at the Painted Bride Arts Center.

Moritz's signature riffs can be marvelous, as when Hugh Hefner (Doug Wild) describes the Playboy Mansion as the bellybutton of the universe.
The only play I had seen by Dennis Moritz before last week was Quick, Fast, and in a Hurry, which Mark Lord had directed for his old ensemble, Potlatch Plays & Spectacles, a few years back. I remember the play from Lord's po-mo production as being about the ontology of language, with office chairs rolling on and off the stage as the speakers tried to describe who they were and what they were experiencing.

Since then, Moritz has linked up with director Michael LeLand, actor Shelita Birchett and a dozen other artists to form Theatre Double, a theater collective that's been making a bit of a stir off-off-Broadway in New York.

Theatre Double brought Quick, Fast, and in a Hurry, along with two other plays by Moritz, to the Painted Bride last week. And the play now appears to be about sexual desire. One figure (played breathlessly by Christopher Kendra) fantasizes about another (Birchett), and about the signals of sexual availability and desire he gets from her, from himself, from furniture ("A table is a table, a chair is a chair," he tries to reason), and from the physical world in general ("It was like making love to a room full of furniture"). Meanwhile, a third figure (LeLand), like a malevolent elf, serves as confidant, busybody ("Did you do it?" he asks him salaciously), go- between (touching her for him, when she doesn't want to be touched) and stand-in (sitting with him wearing a mask of her face, while she describes the scene).

Lord's staging then, and LeLand's now, both show off the play's abstraction and non-linearity. But in Theatre Double's stagings, Moritz's plays, for all their disjointed plots and seemingly unconnected language riffs (accompanied by off-stage sax and flute riffs by Elliot Levin), are decidedly about people, with desires and objectives and world views.

In Dot. . .Dot. . .Dot (presented here in a 17-minute extract, and to be staged in its full two-hour version this spring at Theatre Double's New York home base at the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe), a geeky high school computer nerd (Stan Heleva) Web-surfs his way into the life of Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten (Michelle Pauls), obsessing about her photos the way that she had obsessed about the photos of celebrities in her fan magazines, and finally identifying with Stratten's obsessively possessive husband and murderer.

In the longer Just the Boys (billed as "A Theatre Double Collaboration"), Jerry (Peter Patrikios), a womanizing musician-turned-mechanic, obsesses about Evelyn (Kimberly Thomas), a painter to whom he rents a room, who obsesses about him in return, while his mechanic buddies and her predecessors and rivals look on and screw things up as best they can.

If Just the Boys is more problematic as a play and less satisfying in its characterizations (the women think that the men are uncommunicative objectifying shits, and so they are; the men think that the women are duplicitous manipulative bitches, and so they are), it's because it's more a real play than the others, with a recognizable plot and a real set of characters. But, like the other two plays and fragments, it has Moritz's signature riffs and digressions. And these can be marvelous, whether it's the computer geek in Dot. . .Dot. . .Dot describing squeezing pus out of his zits, or Hugh Hefner (Doug Wild) describing the Playboy Mansion as the bellybutton of the universe.

"If you don't get the form right, it drives me crazy," observes Jerry, both about Evelyn's paintings and about the balance of parts in the power train of a well-built engine. I don't fully understand the form of Dennis Moritz's plays; but Theatre Double, by all appearances, appears to have gotten it right.

-- Cary M. Mazer