Eric Ray Anderson, Chris Ensweiler, and Jessica Skerritt in Woody Allen's Riverside Drive.

ACT Theatre brings out big name playwrights for its current production of An Evening of One Acts: Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and Sam Shepard. Yet despite the clout those names carry, the production fails to live up to the star billing, mostly because of it's brutal third act.

Martin's Patter For the Floating Lady and Allen's Riverside Drive comprise the first half of the evening. The most striking aspect of the self-reflective comedies is how clearly the plays take on their writer's distinctive voices. Both lead roles are obviously crafted for the stars themselves to potray. Thankfully neither Patter's Magician (David Foubert) or Riverside's Jim (Chris Ensweiler) stoop to impressions based on Martin's trademark idiotic bravado or Allen's nebbish neuroticism.

Patter For the Floating Lady embraces the brevity of the one-act, running barely longer than a typical theatrical scene. It makes the most of its time, examining the pathos of a magician trying to win back the love of his assistant and how we often hope for quick magical fixes to cure the negligent mistakes we make. It serves as the appetizer: light, fun, but not exactly filling.

Riverside Drive continues the thematic exploration of inward mental examination with a slightly darker tone. When timid Jim encounters a boisterous stranger named Fred (Eric Ray Anderson), Jim's indecisive personality quickly becomes overwhelmed by the Fred's suggestions. It's an interesting look at impulse and how decisiveness, even if delivered by a numbskull, can have serious sway on the meek.

The evening falls apart post-intermission with Sam Shepard's sci-fi western The Unseen Hand. It's hard to even knock the production itself, because the acclaimed playwright's script is unequivocally a hot mess. The phrase "needlessly elaborate" springs to mind. The story follows a 120-year old cowboy bandit named Blue Morphan who is visited by Willie, an alien called that brings Blue Morphan's long-dead brother back to life in attempt to overthrow Willie's oppressive alien magician overlords. It's clumsy sci-fi at its worst. Its attempts to prod at issues of free will and self-motivation fall flat as Willie's story gets more complex for complexity's sake. The actors don't have much to work with and the characters quickly lose any touch with reality and become cartoonish creatures that garner no audience investment. Shepard's The Unseen Hand would've been best left unseen.

An Evening of One Acts
Thru Aug 17, ACT Theatre, $44$66

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