The twist in the Rage of the Stage Players' Twisted Monologues is that the tales themselves -- of course told by some rather bizarre characters -- usually feature a surprise or two by the end. The evening of 17 one-acts by company director James Michael Shoberg comprise a very mixed bag. Some are little more than clever skits; a few shine; a few could be dropped to both shorten and improve the evening; and a couple are oddly misplaced.
"Confessions of a Magic Mirror," with Jody O'Donnell lamenting his centuries-old post-Snow White ignominy, indeed offers a lot of laughs, but it's not a strong closer for the first act. No, that should have been what's now the penultimate piece, "Out of the Closet." It compellingly combines a brilliant costume concept and construction with the chills, thrills and chuckles delivered by Rob Henry as the bogeyman.
"Mirror" would nicely open the second act, instead of the current throwaway bit against tipping (which should join the anti-smoking tirade and a stereotype of nursing-home workers in the reject pile). On the other hand, Lindsay Nagel in "None the Wiser" solidly fills the evening's first slot.
While Shoberg usually emphasizes humor and horror, he can also hit the gut, as in "A Cold Commencement." Brittany Spinelli is both sympathetic and credible as an over-achieving teen-ager haltingly confessing, apologizing for and lamenting her single and singular transgression.
The playwright gets a little cute playing "One Rainy Night" against "One Stormy Night" (the titles could use some help). The former features a monologue by an appropriately drippy Thomas Sterner as a dorky motorist who picks up a hitchhiker (Geoff Bowman) who mimes whatever dialogue they have. Bowman gets his chance to speak in the latter play, with the same action as before and Sterner the silent speaker. Too bad the "twist" is telegraphed.
Possibly the funniest, and certainly grossest soliloquy is Shoberg's paean to paruresis, with Everett Lowe wonderfully jittery in "Performance Anxiety." The "creepiest" award goes to Stephen Kromka and his almost-incestuous love affair with fire, "The Perfect Match." Close runner-up is the letter-writing Harry J. Roth in "Guilty of Love." And what would a Rage of the Stage production be without an overblown finale, with Sean Michael Gallaher as a broken but beautifully dressed angel in "A Breath from Heaven"?
Twisted Monologues continues through June 12. Rage of the Stage Players at Pitt's Studio Theatre, basement of the Cathedral of Learning, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow, Oakland. 412-851-0922 or www.myspace.com/rageofthestage