Patrick Crowling's "Irrational Tangos" 

Two to Tango

To call "Irrational Tangos" a night of one-act plays is not exactly accurate. The latest production from the Richmond Performing Arts Collective includes two short dramatic pieces, that's for sure, both written by local writer/performer Patrick Crowling. But the first is more of an exercise than a play, an existential tˆte-…-tˆte called "Again for the Sake of Argument" that's probably more fun for the actors to perform than for an audience to experience. In it, a couple decked out in formal evening wear chatters on indifferently about their pointless lives, reducing even fabricated romantic trysts to dreariness. The result is a sort of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" lite — really lite.

But it's too early to dismiss Crowling outright. In the second piece, "The Best Little Monkeys in the World," the playwright demonstrates an impressive talent for developing interesting characters and pitting them against each other in compelling ways. Buoyed by great performances by Jake Mosser and Beauregard Marie, this piece generates significant dramatic tension in a short period of time. The two actors play guards at an unspecified prison camp who engage in a philosophical battle where the outcome may ultimately determine whether they live or die.

Mosser — an impressive newcomer with more than a passing resemblance to Ben Affleck — plays the guard who follows orders blindly and dispassionately. Marie is a rebellious jester who challenges the status quo and, as one would expect, may have to pay dearly for it. Letting his resonant voice reverberate in the airy ArtSpace gallery, Marie projects an antic and intense personality. And I do mean project — director Karen Brown decided to stage "Monkeys" on the gallery mezzanine, above and away from the audience.

Crowling's first play of the night is emotionally distant. Unfortunately, the second one, although much more engaging, is too far away physically.

"Irrational Tangos" runs at ArtSpace Gallery, 6 E. Broad St., at 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday through March 18. Tickets are $7; $5 for students. Call 359-7552 for details.


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