Theater Review (NYC): Twisted

Twisted is a modest, uneven, but often diverting collection of short one-acts. It opens with the most substantial and ambitious of the evening's five plays. In Matt Hanf's Teddy Knows Too Much, the hefty actor Peter Aguero deadpans the role of three-year-old Billy, whose toys—a plush bear, a Dick Cheney mask, a rubber duckie—are his only confidantes.

While these imaginative figures can be alternately understanding or sinister, the adults around Billy are universally insensitive. ("I think I'll wear the emerald earrings you got me for our last fight," wisecracks his mother, while his father considers leering at the violence in The Sopranos to constitute a valid "family night.") Billy fights back the only way he can: with ever-intensifying mischief.

The parents are written and played as such churlish, career-obsessed caricatures that the play tends to overstate its case; a small boy's imaginative world can be terrifying even in the kindliest of families. But Aguero's brash, funny performance and the lines Hanf gives him elevate the show above easy satire. "Being good is what is expected," philosophized the overgrown, biker-bearded toddler, "and what is expected is rarely rewarded."

Mark Harvey Levine's "The Kiss" is a slight but well-scripted scenario of two friends (Flor Bromley and Jonathan Reed Wexler, both very good) touching on feelings that haven't been touched on before. It's followed by two skits that dramatize comically bizarre what-if situations, in the style of Saturday Night Live skits. They're one-joke pieces, so I won't give away the jokes, but unlike some of the abovementioned TV skits, they're pretty funny—especially Justin Warner's "Head Games"—and they don't overstay their welcome; suffice it to say there's a garden shears, many pastries, and a very funny Lindsay Beecher as a teenage Salome.

Ms. Beecher returns as a coke-addicted exotic dancer for the evening's final play and its only real dud. In "Party Girl," a young man (Billy Fenderson) attending his cousin's bachelor party discovers that one of the strippers hired for the party (Becky Sterling) is… his girlfriend. Despite the pointed efforts of the talented cast, the play reads like a bloated drama-class exercise—its potentially interesting recipe turns out to be a pot of poorly cooked gruel. It's a downer of an end to an otherwise upbeat and amusing evening.

Twisted is the Rising Sun Performance Company's third annual one-act series. It plays at at UNDER St. Marks through July 26. Tickets at Smarttix or 212-868-4444, or at horseTRADE. Photos by David Anthony.