A picnic in the park is followed by a spoof on Greek tragedy that gives way to an insomniac philosopher’s tossing and turnings, capped by two couples inhabiting the same house but building decidedly dissimilar relationships. This is Jumping the Median, four one act plays by Steve Connell, a nationall Poetry Slam grand champion. Each short play has its own distinct style and narrative, and each one scores hits and misses in terms of theatrical merit. The most fully realized piece of the lot is Love Thy Neighbors, a parody of Greek tragedy that mocks its source material with hilarious success. Ida Darvish steals the show here, as the sexually potent Jocasta, who lusts after Vincent (Kevin Larsen), a young boy who turns out to be much more than meets the eye. Set in 1950’s suburbia, this quaint dinner party soon turns into a sexy romp that ends with blood and daggers. Showing up on the scene are characters familiar in Greek lore, including the blind soothsayer Tyrcsias (Brent Tonick) and Jocasta’s husband Laius (Joe Sanfelippo). To make matters funnier, a duo serving as the Greek chorus (an exceedingly funny Mike Wood and equally talented Greg Crooks) shows up at this supposedly square household, issuing cryptic warnings as they circle the guests. It’s all very Greek and the humor hinges on Connell’s ability to reference Greek text while plopping the ancient characters smack dab in the middle of an American household at a time in history when apple pie ideals were still serving as a preferable façade for any familial indiscretions. On the not-so-successful side is the titular vignette, Jumping the Median, a banal musing on the value of risk-taking in romance and the supposed beauty of finally looking for love in all the right places. The story unfolds in a park, where Andrea (Ida Darvish) has been stood up by a guy with whom she had planned the perfect picnic date. Charlie (played by the playwright, Connell), is there to find inspiration for his songwriting endeavors, but words escape him. Andrea and Charlie come to the park day after day, she searching for the man who stood her up, he searching for the right lyrics. Lo and behold, what do you think happens? It’s all excruciatingly predictable and the dialogue feels more like writerly gems of wisdom than actual human communication. Us and Them, the other piece of romantic drama in this batch of one-acts, feels almost as contrived as Jumping the Median, as two couples from different moments in modern history inhabit the same house, one couple reaching back in time to hopefully learn lessons from the other couple’s failed relationship.It’s a good thing Connell doesn’t stick to modern romance throughout the show, because he’s a good writer who doesn’t do that genre any favors. In All Fall Up, Connell traverses more existential terrain where he finds much surer footing. His central character is a man haunted by insomnia, incapable of silencing the nightmarish voices in his head. When our protagonist eventually allows more gentle whispers to lull him back to dreamland, we feel as relieved for him as we do for ourselves, as most of us have been stuck squarely in our own heads at one point or another. It’s touching and dramatically sound, though its success would be dubious were it written in longer form. It’s worth checking out Jumping the Median for the two strong pieces of theatre it features, just don’t expect to learn much about the nature of true love. Do expect some genuine if scattered laughs, and a few moments of thoughtful contemplation about life’s larger meaning. At The Other Space, Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., www.pushtotalkt heatre.com.
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