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One-act plays by Sjoerdsma skillful examples of their genre

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One-act plays by Sjoerdsma skillful examples of their genre


Drama featuring morbid examinations of the big problems of “little” people has become something of a cottage industry — particularly when set in the South and the West.

However, even at a good production of this genre, it takes a while not to wish that you were a little farther into the play or a little closer to the door.

For when you listen to Al Sjoerdsma’s pair of one-act plays, which opened a two-weekend run last night at the Performance Network, it’s hard not to simply pay attention to the surface, because Sjoerdsma definitely has the veneer of this genre down perfectly.

But once you’ve penetrated the surface of characters who wave guns, display a smorgasbord of symptoms of mental illness, guzzle gallons of Budweiser and call each other “honey” while they talk “bid-ness,” there is no question: Al Sjoerdsma’s is a most original mind.

Granted, it takes a little work on the audience’s part; but at least he helps by structuring his two one-act plays (set in the same town on the same night) somewhat differently. “Death Drinks a Beer” is a smart but very slow-paced examination of the sibling rivalry between selfish brother Sorrell (Jonathan Smeenge) and his dutiful sister Sue (Anne M. Stoll), who still live in the house where they were terrorized by their long since dead alcoholic father. When a nice guy named Dwayne (Bob Holkeboer) falls in love with Sue, she sees a way out — but not the one Sorrell fears or Dwayne hopes for — it’s tied up with a grim variation on an 0. Henry-type ending.

Then there’s “That’ll Be the Day,” Sjoerdsma’s sometimes maddening series of vignettes from the night of a man (Smeenge again) who is awaiting execution as the two women in his life nervously watch the TV to see if he’ll be pardoned. Occasionally surreal (for example, Smengee’s character sits in his cell relating the plot of the John Ford film “The Searchers”), “Day” manages to make a strong point about the role our own fantasies and expectations play in obscuring the human beings right before us.

Sjoerdsma is aided in his occasionally experimental tasks by a fine cast — Smeenge is both menacing and hopeless as Sorrell, and earnest but dim as Roy. As sister Sue in “Beer,” Anne M. Stoll adds another finely detailed portrait to her characterizations (although given her range, it’s a surprise that she seemed to have a little trouble acting dumb or generating steam as the vampy Peg in “Day”). Cindy Hee, in reprising her role as Gaile in “Day” commanded both respect and sympathy, and Bob Holkeboer brought a Jimmy Stewart-like charm to the resoundingly average Dwayne.

This was only two parts of a trilogy, but since the plays are essentially unrelated except by their time and place, the portions of the “Waynesville Trilogy” both make you hungry to see the rest of the work — and to hear what Al Sjoerdsma’s writing might sound like without those “gol-dang” accents.

Al Sjberdsma's 'Waynesville Trilogy': 1 & 2 — 'Death Drinks a Beer' and 'That'll be the Day,' starring Jonathan Smeenge. Cindy Hee, Anne M. Stoll and Bob Holkeboer, is being presented tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 6:30 pm., and June 22-25 at the Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St. For reservations or more information. call 663-0681.