The 12 Peers Theater bills these two largely unrelated plays as "A Pair of Killer One-Acts," which attests to the company's high opinion of (or hopes for) their Pittsburgh premieres. While death does indeed underlie both pieces, they could not be more wildly different.
Unrelated (as far as I can tell) to REM's 1983 song of the same name, "Talk About the Passion" works as a tight psychological thriller. Success on that level is no mean feat, though Graham Farrow's 2004 play tries for more depth, digging into such issues as all-consuming revenge, solipsistic greed and the public's voyeuristic passion for depravity. Discussing plot points would spoil the fun.
Peers' artistic director Vince Ventura paces the tension well, perfectly compressed onto the minuscule stage. Jonathan Blandino and Maggie Mayer are the nicely matched combatants, even when swallowing their "English" accents.
Next we change not only gears, but universes. "Passion" is no-nonsense, straight-ahead theater. Also from 2004, "Sustenance" is no-stops-unpulled outrageousness with big gobs of stage business and buckets of fake blood. Playwright James Roday, whose day job is a movie/TV star (most notably with USA Network's Psych, for which he also writes and directs), has created a bizarre, dark and sometimes precious comedy. The "plot," such as it is, is far less important than the special effects and high theatrics that whack the audience.
Director Ventura fills the entire space with "Sustenance" and speed. (He also designed and co-built both sets.) Anchoring the show are John Feightner as a macabre narrator and sound-effects guy, and the special effects by Tolin FX. Nathaniel LeDoux, playing a man who's paralyzed, does a remarkable job at not moving a muscle even while reacting to the surprising secrets of his lifelong buddies, energetically played by Blandino and Mayer. Occasionally breaking into the homicidal humor are Roday's pokes at theater and actors in general, via the versatile Sara Fisher in particular.
"Killer," maybe. But these one-acts do deliver some punches. And fake blood. For real. Consider yourself warned about the "splash zone."