Heather Morgan's female characters should be on the verge of nervous breakdowns, but they're not aware of how pathetic they are. So they smile and deny and try to keep going.
The gifted Morgan has assembled a gallery of them in "Dad, Cancer, Fear and Boys" at the Stella Adler Theatre. It's the first of four programs in Home Box Office's New Writers Project Festival, the staged culmination of a project aimed at developing "multicultural comic writers and performing talent," according to HBO.
Morgan's show is an evening of laugh-so-you-don't-cry sketches. But, while individual pieces are funny, the extreme neediness on display is too one-note to sustain an entire program.
In three sketches, Morgan plays girlish Magic, who wakes up with different guys every morning but frightens most of them off by recounting her latest gory dreams. She appears twice as suburbanite Pearl--hosting a party from inside the pen her husband keeps her in and showing off the new sequined leash her husband has given her.
Morgan's a very polite patient who generously awaits her turn in a doctor's waiting room despite remarkably graphic infirmities. She's a young woman who makes excuses for her outlandishly boorish boyfriend, and another woman whose inability to let her ex go is painful. In her least-developed sketch, Morgan asks strangers in a bar if they're her daddy.
Playing the mother of a 5-year-old, Morgan marks his birthday with a cake--and with a catalogue of life's relentless horrors. And in voice-overs between sketches, we repeatedly hear a woman proposing oral sex to men she just met in a tone that sounds as if she were suggesting a date at the malt shop.
Former Groundling Morgan is assisted by a cast of four others with Groundlings ties. Some of these sketches have been seen in Groundlings shows, surrounded by more diverse material. Morgan's material is still sharp here, but it seemed sharper there, where it wasn't so repetitive.
You'd think HBO would launch its live showcase of new writers with completely brand-new material. Nevertheless, Morgan is clearly a promising talent, and HBO is smart to encourage her.
* "Dad, Cancer, Fear and Boys," Program A of the HBO New Writers Project Festival, Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd. Tonight and Saturday, 8 p.m. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.