Rand Raves and Bed Bugs 

Staging a pair of shorts, Virago Theatre Company wins one, loses one.

Alameda's Virago Theatre Company staged its first show only last year, but it seems devoted to presenting challenging fare in various venues on the island. Its current pairing of world-premiere shorts by local playwrights fits right into that game plan and demonstrates a fundamental truth about challenges: You win some, you lose some.

Scarcely more than a half hour, John Byrd's The Death of Ayn Rand starts with the bedridden objectivist philosopher (Sondra Putnam, with an accent more German than Russian) dictating a lurid bodice-ripper to acolyte Leonard Peikoff (a straitlaced Stephen Pawley). Though Rand seems beatific as she works despite her frailty, any fear of a mawkish tribute to her last days is dissipated when a nurse in a skimpy uniform (Michaela Greeley) starts bringing in flowers and balloons that no one else can see. Then come the clowns.

The rest is unabashed wackiness, well paced by director Robert Lundy-Paine, as unlisted cast members Angela Dant and Jeremy Vik sing, juggle, brawl, and shatter the fourth wall, critiquing the audience in a gag from last year's all wear bowlers at Berkeley Rep. As it gets ever sillier, Rand becomes more and more incensed, her precious mind-independent reality torn to bits before her eyes. It's an amusing little romp that becomes heavy-handed only when it closes with the Gary Jules cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" — I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad — the lyrics summing things up tidily.

A little tidiness would be welcome in Robert Hamm's A Bed of My Own, helmed by artistic director Laura Lundy-Paine. At first it seems similarly quirky, as Pawley, playing a whining, stammering, milquetoast Reager, enters a squalid apartment where his ex, Rosie (Greeley, radiating rage), sits him down to a dinner plate dominated by an overflowing ashtray. A menacing Paul Santiago as Rosie's bullying beau Stan seems incapable of leaving the bed, though he's neither ill nor visibly restrained.

So far so good, if this were some kind of farce. Instead, it soon becomes overboiled noir packed with hackneyed and repetitive Spillane dialogue. Reager turns out to be the most enjoyable part of all the screaming, baby talk, fighting, and carrying on. It all makes for a very long hour after intermission.


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