COSTA MESA — In Orange Coast College Repertory's student productions, it's always interesting to see the material selections, and that's especially true in "Ten or Less," a program of six one-act plays running 10 minutes or less.
Three of the directors chose plays. The other three chose sketches. The plays deal with character development and the human condition, while the sketches restrict themselves to a joke.
The evening begins on a high with Joe Pintauro's touching "Rosen's Son" and gradually lets the audience down, bottoming out with the glib and facile final piece, "Cuttin' Line."
"Rosen's Son," directed with compassion by Jeffrey Roma, concerns a Jewish father (Sean Henry) angry over the death of his gay son and even angrier at the son's former lover, Eddie (Coronado Romero), who takes a new lover (Paul Secrest) two months after the funeral. It is well-staged and acted with heartfelt angst; Romero is still reeling from the death, Secrest is snappy and concerned only with the guests in another room, and Henry--though too young for Rosen--hints of a good character actor to come.
Director Chad Wood follows up "Rosen" with Jane Anderson's "Lynette at 3 AM," a fairly subtle and often funny exploration of a young woman's nocturnal private dramas. Lynette (Taffeta Wood) thinks she's heard a gunshot from the apartment below and is hard-pressed to let her Bobby (Jake Kandel) stay asleep. When he finally sinks into slumber, Lynette is visited by Estaban (Mark Fletcher), who has just been killed by his brother for sleeping with the brother's wife. He's on his way to heaven and pauses to show Lynette the true meaning of romance, and release. It's cleverly and insightfully written, affectionately directed and acted with sincerity and understanding.
The third play is John Patrick Shanley's "The Red Coat," about a lovelorn young man on a door stoop, waiting for his love and almost falling apart in his anxiety over how to share his feelings. Secrest and Rebecca Muhleman are both charming as the youngsters finding each other's love, and director Laura Viramontes guides them with tender, throbbing insight into Shanley's idea of emotional discovery.
After intermission, the first sketch is David S. Raine's "976-LUST," about two unattractive next-door neighbors on opposite ends of a phone-sex line who decide to meet. Barney Higgins and Raphaella Davidovich give the couple as much charm as they can, directed with sprightly humor by Rachel Davenport in the manner of a TV skit.
The cleverness of David Ives' "Words, Words, Words" is its saving grace, with a one-joke exploration of the old hypothesis that chimpanzees sitting at typewriters, banging away, would eventually tap out "Hamlet." Why director Donna Ham chose this one is puzzling. Secrest, Wood and Kurt Jarrard have a ball being cute as monkeys, but isn't pretending to be an animal something for an elementary acting class?
Raines also wrote the final "Cuttin' Line," directed by Timothy C. Todd, but neither it nor Todd provide much fodder for the actors. Romero keeps a straight face as the father of a family just killed in an auto accident who can't get through the pearly gates. Henry shines even brighter here as the feisty pet dog that causes the reservation hang-up. Rachel Davenport stands out as the aggressively annoying businesswoman who has obviously replaced St. Peter, but the script doesn't allow Kristen Miller, Tiffany McClintock and Viramontes to do much.
* "Ten or Less," Drama Lab, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Saturday, 5 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Sunday. $6. (714) 432-5640 (press 1). Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.