As we walked into ACT Theatre for an evening of one-act plays by Steve Martin, Woody Allen, and Sam Shepard, my date proposed a game: Without looking at the program or any of the lobby placards, she'd try to guess who wrote which script. This turned out to be a laughably easy assignment. Each play—jittery in its own way, but also stylistically calcified in its own way—was a clear reflection of each writer's familiar themes and obsessions. In Patter for the Floating Lady, a self-conscious magician muses on his inability to satisfy a younger woman. In Riverside Drive, a nebbishy screenwriter in a tweed jacket is anxiously waiting for his mistress by the Hudson River and has a bizarre conversation with an insightful psychotic. And in The Unseen Hand, a century-old bandit living in a car along Route 66 goes on a psychedelic adventure—which, as the title indicates, is a thinly veiled parable about the evils of capitalist exploitation—involving an oppressed space baboon, his long-dead bandit brothers, and a male cheerleader from the local high school.
Each one felt less like the startling work of a confident playwright than three men writing what they thought a play was supposed to sound like. But the company—directed by R. Hamilton Wright—didn't seem to mind as they scampered through the three little fever dreams. They played it straight but clearly weren't taking themselves too seriously.