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The plays that make up Mister Mayhem’s comedy Cafe Menage: Three One-Act Plays That Don’t Suck were written while the authors were in college, and it shows. Not only is the humor sophomoric, but the stories are about events of most moment to students: hooking up, breaking up, and trying to study in coffeehouses. In the first offering, Score?, future journalist Jack (Drew Johnson) is making a play for recently singled sociology fox Rayla (Angelle Bonnecarre). Analyzing his technique are adrenaline-pumped play-
by-play broadcaster Wilt Chambers (Matthew C. Hartman), color man Bert Lewis (author Joe Killiany), and sideline reporter Karen Goldsmith (Ellie Davis); the referee is Larry Bean (Jose Torres). When Jack announces to studious Rayla that he doesn’t know if he enjoys his classes because he rarely goes, Bean nails him with a five-line penalty for “dumbass comment revealing laziness.” Think a decent Saturday Night Live sketch. The second effort, Acting Up, features Torres as a theater grad student trying to write a paper about relationships with the assistance of two specters, Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe (Hartman) and horny booze-hound Virginia Woolf (Angela Lahl). And assisting them are sprung-to-life characters from The Taming of the Shrew, Tartuffe, and The Importance of Being Earnest. Barista Dytra (Kimberly Klinger) fends off passes from the student and Virginia as she tries to shoo the fictionals out of her restaurant to make way for paying customers. Moliere’s duplicitous cleric (Niall O’Donnell), played as a goombah in a wife-beater, provides a chuckle in this one, but the characters are introduced briefly, then stacked like firewood at stage right. Think an episode of I Dream of Jeannie in which Jeannie has a cold or something that makes her conjure up dramatis personae to the embarrassment of Major Nelson. The titular Cafe Menage wraps up the evening. The setting is, again, a coffeehouse, where three tables of students each deal with some kind of troika. Julie and Drew are trying to shake their friend Brook, who’s glommed on to them since breaking up with her boyfriend; Matt faces a cranial implosion as he tries to ascertain whether his girlfriend, Allie, is trying to tell him she’s pregnant; and buddies Stephen, Megan, and Jay gab about life and love in a ’90s-sitcom way. The jokes here are one-liners starting to show their age—”We all have issues; Brook has a subscription,” and “You’re as alone as Garfunkel”—and pop-culture imponderables—”Did you ever wonder if Jabba the Hutt was a man or a woman?” Head-scratching in the audience results when “the author,” correctly sensing the play’s not going well, sends a representative into the coffeehouse to introduce potential remedies. In one attempt, the messenger issues swords to two of the characters and a duel ensues. Think an episode of Friends in which you find out what the extras at the tables in the background are talking about. Directors Meredith Kiffer, Joe Killiany, and Kylos do a creditable job of choreographing 13 actors (the remaining cast includes Kylos, Joe Randazzo, James Rogers III, and Kiffer) around the tiny black box of the D.C. Arts Center, which was born to play a college coffeeshop, without making it feel like a high-rise elevator at lunchtime. As a whole, think a senior playwriting seminar’s class project. —Janet Hopf