The way an island is formed, specifically an archipelago of them, is through random tectonic shifts on the ocean floor that cause volcanic rock to rush up and solidify on the surface. That said, it seems a bit disingenuous for a company that calls itself the Intentional Theatre Group to plan out a series of isolated incidents that bubble to the surface and blot out the sea. And sure enough, some of the ten one-act islands are half-formed in execution, over-produced and controlled so tightly that they have no room to develop of their own volition. At the same time, however, this group has managed to force some undiscovered riches to the surface, commissioning new and old playwrights alike (or borrowing from rarely produced offerings) and bravely producing the results. And thanks to the smooth direction of Emerie Snyder, the evening is spent hopping from one loamy substance to the next: the bad plays are quickly forgotten, and we're willing to jump, as the set is reconfigured -- sculpted -- into a new land, waiting and wanting to see what's next.
Where the playlets stumble most is in their dishonesty, moments where either the playwright or actor fails to address the most important concerns: why tell this story, and to whom are you speaking? In Davy Rothbart's "Scarface," the imprisoned hero must convince his wife to come upstate, children in tow, to make him look good in court, but the one-sided phone conversation lacks immediacy from actor Gavin-Keith Umeh and Rothbart sticks him with false humanity in his anecdotal attempts to help his children kill and dispose of a bat. This sometimes calm, sometimes enraged man has no real life, no real environment, and it becomes impossible to place him.
On the opposite end, Brian Patrick Leahy's "Cranberry" locks onto a unique story about a suicide artist who has strapped enough dynamite to her chest to make sure that when she explodes, the four canvases that surround her will literally make her mark for her. Even when actress Therese Barbato slips into an exaggerative mania on the phone with random interviewers (who we again have no attachment to or through), the idea is captivating.
As a state of theater, Archipelago unwittingly provides a measure of how far a playwright will go to stand out in this simplest and most communicative of forms: the direct monologue. Some, like Sarah Carbiener, revert to cliches, as in her madness-stricken narrative "The Cat's Fault." Others, like Sheila Callaghan in "Hold This" break the text up so unconventionally that the fragments (at least as performed by Nick Lewis) are hard to piece together. Then again, we are also treated to the premieres of Anton Dudley's "Up Here/In Here" and Erica Rosbe's "Orbit," not to mention the classic Beckett pantomime of despair, "Act Without Words I" (a bit noncommittally performed by Daniel Owen Dungan, though the malaise works for this scene). In "Up Here/In Here," Abigail (Lethia Nall) speaks in dreamlike repetition about her broken-glass dreams of the son she has, now dead, a sing-song approach that resembles the intentional parsing of Jenny Schwartz. And in "Orbit," Jeremy (Dan Via) deals with being the last man alive by erratically confiding in us, the stars surrounding his space station, the story of his lonely narcissism. With engaging presentations and charismatic roles, it's no surprise that these are the two best actors of the evening.
Unfortunately, Archipelago never comes together, despite a bookending recording that attempts to put the collection in context. Snyder's direction is focused so much on the pieces that she avoids dealing with the whole, and as a result, the pieces jostle against one another, the better parts sinking the others, rather than merging to create a more solid whole. There's much to be said for this sort of cruise-line theater tourism (you can gain a lot from briefly visiting a series of disparate plays), but the overall message comes as a bit cheap and somewhat crude: the catharsis of loneliness everyone's waiting for never comes.