Story: In Sketch, two women “explore fragmentation and time lapse through a series of duets,” according to publicity material. Identified as ‘1’ and ‘2,’ they investigate their surroundings and their predicament in brief but expressive dances.

In Nine, two women identified only as ‘1’ and ‘2’ are chained in a dungeon of sorts, each on circular platforms separated by a few feet. Their sole refuge is a word game that they play in which the one doing the ‘tell’ has power over her cellmate, the power of knowledge. It’s all they have to maintain their sanity that periodically is interrupted with torture by their unseen assailants.

Highlights: Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble terms its 2013-14 season “The Season of the Monster,” which SATE says is “dedicated to exploring what it means to be a monster.”

For its first presentation devoted to this theme, SATE has paired with Leverage Dance Theater, which showcases assistant director Hannah Fischer’s new work, Sketch. Jane Shepard’s one-act play Nine is part of her four-play anthology, Kick Ass Plays for Women, performed in two short but sobering scenes on the heels of Sketch.

In tandem the two brief skits, which run less than one hour, offer an intriguing study of two characters in each vignette who may be one and the same. Director Kelley Weber instills both works with a taut, suspenseful aura that defines the presentation with a thick cloud of tension, especially permeating the latter piece.

Other Info: Fischer defines Sketch as “physical theater meets dance,” something she and Elodie Andrews present in a series of very brief excursions choreographed by Fischer around the floor at The Chapel that serves as a dance area in Scott De Broux’s spare but telling scenic design. There’s also a blood-splattered chain-link fence behind the duo, who seem to be probing avenues of escape as well as self-expression. Audrey Simes provides the free-flowing costumes that help define the characters.

Director Weber then has the audience gather on the stage to the rear of the floor to view Nine. There, in and out of evocative lighting designed by Bess Moynihan, Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts offer a sobering portrayal of two apparent prisoners who take turns providing the dialogue that allows them the only escape from their predicament.

At first ‘2’ (Schwetye) is curled up in a defensive, embryonic position, nurturing her physical and psychological wounds as ‘1’ (Tibbetts) initiates a ‘tell.’ The latter says that a tell differs from a fact in that it is experiential. Hers is a story, she points out, while her cellmate’s leading comment, “A stitch in time,” is part of a ‘fact.’

Although 2 utters the verbal hint of ‘saves’ to help complete the bromide, 1 is flustered at her inability to solve the riddle, which thus keeps her subservient to the verbal power of her colleague. When 1 reveals a surprising secret, though, she finds that it has mystical powers of its own over 2.

Each of the two brief scenes shows the characters flipping identities, as Tibbetts’ ‘1’ retreats into defensive mode following a bout of torture that comes on the heels of a dreadful chime, and ‘2’ becomes the interrogator.

Have the two characters in Sketch become the prisoners in Nine? Perhaps so. It’s all rather mysterious, but also clever and intriguing as shaped by Weber and her captivating players. To ‘1’ and ‘2,’ the monsters are everywhere and all powerful, and their grip on sanity is tentative and fragile.

Sketch/Nine is rather spare stuff, particularly the former, but also expressive, interesting and harrowing. All in all, it’s a fine start to “The Season of the Monster.”

Play: Sketch/Nine

Companies: Leverage Dance Theater, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Venue: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive

Dates: August 28, 29, 30, 31

Tickets: $15-$20; contact 827-5760, or

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of RumZoo Photography, Leverage Dance Theater