Story: Complicated Lives is comprised of four short, one-act plays by local playwright and actor Stephen Peirick.

In On Solid Ground, a spry widow named Adele surprises her single daughter Meredith on Adele’s wedding anniversary to her late husband. Rather than their traditional foray to a restaurant in the several years since his passing, this time Adele has decided to honor her late husband’s ‘bucket list’ by parachuting from a plane. He’ll be making the jump, too, she says, and she’d like Meredith to accompany them. What’s a daughter to do?

The Dock is the setting for a vignette focusing on the groom’s mother, Donna, his best man, Marty and a childhood friend, April. As Donna escapes to the dock from the beach resort reception to sneak a cigarette, she’s soon joined by Marty for a revealing little conversation. That’s minor, though, compared to the lengthy exchange that takes place between Marty and April, who appears shortly before Donna returns to the reception.

It’s a Tangled Mess for Carrie and Sabrina when the former returns unexpectedly to the home they once shared to retrieve a blender that she says is hers. The ex-lovers get into a little spat that spills into a bigger confrontation over who did what to whom, but it’s apparent that the embers of love haven’t entirely died.

In Peeping, free-wheeling Ava drops in on her prim and proper sister Maggie. In the midst of her ongoing boast about the many men in her life, including the 'wonderful' Keith to whom she’s been married for just a few years, Ava learns that Maggie is being stalked by a man who may have just peered through her window. Maggie anxiously awaits the arrival of her husband from a business trip in the hope that nothing deadly will occur. Or is it already too late?

Highlights: Peirick, a local actor, is also a prolific playwright who has penned a number of works that have received recognition in places such as the Warner International Playwrights Festival in Connecticut, the Snowdance Comedy Festival in Wisconsin and the New Works Winter Festival in Massachusetts. His two-act comedy, Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs, was a rollicking success performed last year at West End Players Guild and then reprised at St. Louis Community College-Meramec.

As part of Stray Dog Theatre’s New Works Laboratory, the audience, performers and writer all take part in the play development process. As Stray Dog defines it, “Playwrights with a unique vision, innovative subject matter and diverse perspectives are thus given a voice.” Peirick’s four vignettes were presented that opportunity in a series of free performances over three evenings.

It’s important to note that these were workshop productions that doubtless will be further refined and developed by the writer. That said, by far the best of the quartet is The Dock, a charming and compelling slice-of-life that reveals the hearts and minds of its trio of characters in natural, unforced fashion. Jan Meyer, Antonio Rodriguez and Betsy Bowman inhabit Peirick’s characters, bringing them to absorbing and affecting life in low-key, believable fashion.

Tangled Mess has its moments as Kate Frisina-White and Nancy Nigh work well off each other and exhibit some chemistry in the relationship. It’s a bit odd that one of them is a district attorney and the other a hair stylist in an Odd Couple way of opposites attracting. The dialogue seems a bit off at times, too, although stylist Carrie’s references to wigs adorning cancer victims are well phrased. Tangled Mess was a winner at the 2013 New Plays from the Heartland staged readings in Normal, Illinois.

Peeping is Peirick’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock and film noir. It has its moments of levity and then escalates with suspense and tension, although the ending is telescoped before its climax. Colleen Backer shapes the timid, repressed Maggie with considerable angst and anxiety, while Sarajane Alverson frolics through the role of her impervious, self-centered sister.

The least successful to me of the quartet is On Solid Ground. It’s a minor piece of fluff, a single thought that’s stretched out for several minutes before reaching a nice little conclusion. Nancy Crouse as Adele, Katie Puglisi as Meredith and Eric Dean White as the flight instructor are fine in the mildly funny but forgettable piece.

Peirick also directed the four plays, designed the modest set and even took photos of the cast. He was aided considerably by Justin Been’s sound design of highly likable pop tunes, costumes and props contributed by Keaton Treece and Been’s lighting design.

Although the performances were free, it was nonetheless heartening to see a full house at the Friday night edition. That’s something Stray Dog seems to do often these days.

Play: Complicated Lives

Company: Stray Dog Theatre

Venue: Tower Grove Abbey

Dates: Run concluded

Photos courtesy of Stephen Peirick