The very title of the sequel to last year's The Moral Abyss, a festival of new one-acts by Sean Michael O'Donnell at the New Olde Bank Theatre, carries a subtle warning. There's not really much thematic continuity in The Moral Abyss Strikes Back, except perhaps a dependence on the clichéd, the obvious and the dated. This isn't to say that there aren't laughs and occasional flashes of originality, but it's fair to see these disparate theater pieces as rough workshops, not plays.
The most promising is an inventively modern perception of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. O'Donnell's "The Absolutely Positively True Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge" often succeeds in playing off against the clichés. Director Todd Collar keeps the eight cast members bouncing around the tiny performance space without crowding it. The playwright portrays the title character with suitable irony, with energetic support especially from Rachel Noderer, Danielle Powell and Mace Porac.
Collar is less successful in managing the manic "It's a Miracle," purportedly a musical based on the life of Helen Keller. Yes. This wildly uneven parade of bad taste, in its better moments, recalls the late Charles Ludlam (of Ridiculous Theatrical Company fame), even to the portrayal of the director by Tom Protulipac. Ludlam's spirit also haunts "Drag Queens, Lesbians, God & The Media," but O'Donnell hammers his point so loudly that the ghost disappears.
As a director, meanwhile, Protulipac scores well with "The Accidental Intentional Death of Miss Connie Jones," a tight little sketch about modern isolation, anomie and call centers. O'Donnell's witty conflict between despair and indifference is well acted by Linda Tracey Kennedy and Roberta House. On the other hand, let's not think about the weakest link in the evening's theatrical chain, the cringe-worthy "Celebrity."
With a volunteer company and theatrical rough drafts, The Moral Abyss Strikes Back is expected to be a mixed bag: lightweight and occasionally entertaining. But, hey, the air conditioning works great.
THE MORAL ABYSS STRIKES BACK continues through Sat., July 30. The New Olde Bank Theatre, Verona. 412-251-7904 or www.newobt.com