Play: The Hook-Up and Audition Piece

Group: First Run Theatre

Venue: Hunter Theater, DeSmet High School, 233 North New Ballas

Dates: April 25,26,27

Tickets: From $8 to $12; contact 314-352-5114

Story: In The Hook-Up, by Joel M. Litman, a man and woman come back to her place in Las Vegas after he’s hit a nice little jackpot at one of the casinos. Although she assures him that her husband won’t be home, her spouse does indeed show up before the dalliance gets very far, leading to more impromptu subterfuge.

Audition Piece, by Gerry Mandel, shines the spotlight on a quintet of applicants aspiring to play parts in a movie being cast by a grouchy director. Each of the performing wannabes has his or her reasons for winning a role, and a couple of them have surprising backgrounds as well.

Highlights: First Run Theatre specializes in presenting new works by St. Louis-area playwrights, and now has stepped it up a notch by joining the ranks of local theater companies participating in the Kevin Kline Award nominating procedures. Company president Brad Slavik announced the ambitious move on opening night, re-emphasizing the troupe’s commitment to original works.

In The Hook-Up, Erin Vlasaty, Michael Monsey and Joe Wegescheide have great fun hamming it up as the wife, lover and husband, respectively. The humor is broad and silly, but the short one-act work thankfully moves quickly under director Vanessa Revard Roman’s straight-ahead approach. George Wagner’s set design is a purposely garish mishmash of a Mona Lisa print, some native American wall adornments and a big ol’ trunk positioned oddly at the foot of a bed.

Mandel’s Audition Piece actually is two acts sandwiched around a brief intermission, and features some amusing performances, most notably Harry Weber as a famous playwright attempting to "stretch" himself as an actor on the advice of his agent. Weber gets the best lines and delivers them with judicious timing and understated emphasis, apart from his wildly exaggerated (and overdone) motif in the playwright’s "performing" mode. Sarah Wieck nicely handles the role of a quiet young woman looking to do something different, while Anne Weber does fine as an older and caustic actress weighed down by an enormous chip on her shoulder.

Other Info: Marc Macormic is solid as a veteran stage actor looking for a break in a film, and Susan Berardi plays it broadly as an over-eager dimwit running on high-octane energy without taking time to think. Adam Raymond is dutiful if less successful as the curmudgeonly director.

Macormic fares less favorably as the director of Audition Piece, which moves at a glacial pace, particularly in the excruciatingly long second act. While starting promisingly, Mandel’s work ultimately is a tedious and overly earnest exercise that could benefit from some serious pruning. As for Litman’s effort, it suffers from a severe case of overwriting and self-conscious cleverness that only exacerbate the work’s shortcomings, although the ending is amusing enough. Both playwrights need to refine and polish these rough stones in order to give them any lasting gloss.

Rating: A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.