For “Happy Endings,” Blue Coyote Theater Group has put together a group of nine plays under a general “what it means to take money for sex” theme. Though the quality varies slightly, the surprise of this evening, which has several different directors, is how well it hangs together; there isn’t a dud play in the bunch. There’s a keen sense of people trying to connect in the best of these segments, and because they’re so short, they never feel the need to belabor the issues they bring up. The most interesting of the nine is Christine Whitley’s “Peep Show,” a tense examination of a broken-hearted woman (Laura Desmond) paying a rather mysterious man (Robert Buckwalter) simply to look at her. There’s a sort of unnamed dread underlying everything these two say to each other; Whitley probably has the least experience of the playwrights on view here, according to her bio, but her talent reveals itself in what she chooses to tell us about these two people, and what she chooses to keep hidden. Such discipline would help “Whenever You’re Ready” by John Yearley, a touching examination of a seasoned hooker (Tracey Gilbert) falling for a boy (Carter Jackson) who is paying to draw her body. In spite of some over-writing here and there, the play works, finally, because of Gilbert’s immediacy and frank vulnerability.
Stan Richardson’s “AIDS Reveal” shows the formal inventiveness and furious ambition present in all of this playwright’s work. “AIDS Reveal” is too big, too dense, and too risky to sit comfortably with the other work here; Richardson’s voice as a playwright is so dominant that it can’t really join a chorus of others, and the shortness of this format thwarts his keen urge for size, but it’s hard not to admire the thrust of his uneasy ideas. Some of the plays are farcical, like Boo Killebrew’s “Pulling Teeth,” a confrontation between a forlorn Tooth Fairy (R. Jane Casserly), a queeny Easter Bunny (Phillip Taratula) and a dissatisfied Mrs. Claus (Tracey Gilbert again). This play manages to be extremely funny and unexpectedly moving in Casserly’s sincere performance, especially when she gets upset about the idea of kids no longer believing in her. The evening’s most downright disturbing play is Matthew Freeman’s “The White Swallow,” which describes a nightmarish trick/john scenario with such punishing detail that you can’t help but wonder if the playwright, or someone he knows well, has experienced it himself. The evening is book-ended by two plays that feature a perfectly formed go-go boy (Joe Curnutte). The first, Blair Fell’s “Beauty” makes a clear point about how we want aesthetically pleasing human surfaces to remain unsullied by actual interaction with them, and this point is taken up and completed by the last play, David Johnston’s “Yes Yes Yes,” in which Curnutte’s dancer gets into a believable and heated argument about James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” with a shy, tweedy man (Jim Ireland) which ends in a passionate kiss. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But as a whole, “Happy Endings” is a cornucopia of compelling theater, and it offers a smorgasbord of fine acting from its very large cast.