'Moonlighting 2013'

"Moonlighting 2013," artfully staged readings of seven well-crafted short comedies presented by Ashland Contemporary Theatre, is a lovely way to spend a warm summer evening.

Subtly directed and professionally acted by ACT members, the 10-minute plays weave humorous and gently absurdist images of everyday life.

"Albert Einstein's Brain," by Ron Burch, is a wry commentary on obsessive online bidding. Jake (Jimmy Dix) is thrilled with his coup, the scientist's actual brain. His exasperated wife, Leslie (Mig Windows), is less so. Jake apparently has a weakness for bidding on celebrity body parts (Napoleon's penis, da Vinci's hair), always hoping that this time the provenance is real. With Burch's deftly constructed dialogue and director Lyda Woods' light touch, the play subtly comes around to the subject of optimism, trust and hope.

Dori Appel's "The Last Dodo and the Last Woolly Mammoth," directed by ACT interim Artistic Director Evalyn Hansen, has a harder time of it. The play is part dialogue, part narration, part poetry. Gloria Rossi, as the East Coast-accented Mammoth, and Windows, as the Southern-accented dodo bird, are a good team and the skit is sweet and heartfelt, but it never quite jells.

"Invisible," written and directed by Woods, takes us to a 12-step meeting for "the socially challenged." As the facilitator (Dix) coaxes Maria (Woods) to tell her story, the events and circumstances become stranger and funnier, leading to a hilarious denouement. Woods carries all of this off with aplomb.

The uptight world of modern-day airport security is the subject of Seattle playwright Barbara Lindsay's "Here to Serve You," directed by Will Churchill. Dix plays an uptight passenger who becomes suspicious of a lone shoe on the floor of the waiting room, although his mellower fellow traveler (Churchill) doesn't see a problem. However, when a security guard (David Dials) is alerted, caution rapidly escalates to paranoia.

"Tigers in the Entry," by Diane Nichols, directed by Karen Douglas, is a delightfully outrageous look at the world of celebrity interior decorators and their wealthy clients. Andrea (Rossi) may think she knows how to browbeat poor Mrs. Benedict (Douglas) into expensive excess but, as the awestruck assistant Kiki (Windows) discovers, the trompe l'oeil is not always what it seems.

How about genetically modified offspring, programmed to look and be exactly what you want? That is the subject of "Motherhood," Archie Koenig's wry look at the future of modern medicine, directed by Churchill. Mom (Windows) and Dad (Dix) listen incredulously as their doctor (Churchill) gleefully enumerates all the options now available to create the allergy-adverse, politically correct and career-directed child of their dreams.

The evening finishes up with Bob Valine's "Doggies," playfully directed by Hansen. It is a sweetly poignant snapshot of a middle-age couple (Rossi and Dials) trying to keep the "oomph" in their love life. All their usual familiar role-playing scenarios are just not working. The solution, of course, is delightfully simple.

The plays are the winners of ACT's writing competition, chosen from 25 submissions from writers up and down the West Coast.

Jeff Golden hosted and narrated on the opening weekend. Jeannine Grizzard will do the honors for the rest of the performances.

"Moonlighting 2013" can be seen at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 7, at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 E. Nevada St., Ashland. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased online at www.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org or at the door. There are no reservations and doors open 30 minutes prior to performance.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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