Though the program promises you "nine 10-minute comedies," you should be warned that on Friday and Saturday nights, Balagan Theatre splits the nine short plays of Death, Sex into two programs—the first five show at 8 p.m., the rest at 11 p.m. The audience is informed before the eight o'clock show that if they bring their programs back after a nearly two-hour "intermission," they can get into the other four plays for free. This is a remarkable (many would say stupid) amount of trust to put into an audience.
Last Saturday, I was the only person in the stands for the late show. Someone holding a clipboard came out and told me that, due to some sort of "disaster," the show had been canceled, so I can only report on the quality of the first half. The real shame is that the first two plays, Blood in the Water and ReCount, should have been cut, leaving us with a much more manageable seven-play slate. The program makes much of the fact that Death, Sex is an attempt to "put the focus on the writing," so much so that actors aren't credited for specific roles. Water doesn't stand up to that kind of focus. It's built on a paper-thin premise—a zombie and a vampire take part in a presidential debate—and builds to a corny statement about bipartisanship. ReCount is just a total mess.
But the other three plays are energetic, acerbic works of satire. Kelleen Conway Blanchard's Amphrite is about three panicked fast-food employees who sit, bunkered, inside their restaurant as Lovecraftian creatures destroy the world outside. It builds to a goofy apocalyptic climax (reminiscent of the glory days of Open Circle Theatre's B-movie-inspired Halloween anthologies), and it's only after it's all done that you realize you just watched a bitter criticism of the uselessness of the media's coverage of presidential campaigns.
Even better is Wayne Rawley's Sex Life, in which a man and a woman prepare to have a one-night stand. The man admits that he's married, which kicks off a series of extortions, more and more unbelievable lies, and filthy sex talk. By the end, everybody—the audience included—feels nauseated at how things have escalated. It's a whole political campaign condensed into 10 vivid minutes.
Matt Smith's Mitt Romney Meets the Sphinx is more on the nose than Amphrite and Sex Life, but it's still a sharp satire, like a living political cartoon. Mitt Romney is played by Curtis Eastwood, who doesn't go for easy impersonation but still manages to say some very Romneyesque lines—"I'm a businessman; I know about business" and "I'm confident I hear what you're saying"—with a chipper Mormon lilt. He must gain the approval of the Sphinx (Allison Strickland, covering every syllable of dialogue with silk until it's time to pounce) who assures Romney, "You need my blessing... my sexy blessing" in order to win the presidency. Let's face it: When you're looking to parody the way candidates have to mutilate their core beliefs to win elected office, it's virtually impossible to go over the top.