Island Theatre Workshop’s Pick of the Crop on Friday and Saturday

In "God and Satan Walk Into A Missle Silo," are Brad Austin, Jonathan Revere, Leslie J. Stark, and Wayne Greenwell. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Please note date change: Performances are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27, only.

Island Theatre Workshop’s four-play 2012 Pick of the Crop show fills the Katharine Cornell Theatre stage with a colorful, quirky crowd of fascinating, complex individuals. Each of the plays by Vineyard writers introduces characters who display strong, unique personalities. This despite the works’ brevity and the fact that they are billed as “staged readings” with minimal sets and action.

There are the cynics, romantics, the formal and the casual, blatantly emotional, painfully repressed, the wounded and the wounders. They come together in twos, threes, fours, and reveal more about themselves and the whole human condition in a few minutes than we might expect to find in a full-length play. Even God Himself shows up, and Satan too, both showing unconventionally playful, humorous, and very human aspects. In each story characters engage in intense, push-pull relationships, with someone always intent on breaking through resistance and authentically touching another, perhaps the dynamic of all relationships.

The Garden of Eden is the setting for “The Trial of Eve,” written by Enid McEvoy and directed by Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) board vice-president Kevin Ryan. Laurel Johnson plays Eve as a sophisticated young professional woman — perhaps an upcoming lawyer based on her quick comebacks and debating skills as she faces off with God — dressed for success and blooming with confidence and womanpower. Ben Mankoff’s Adam is not so certain. He makes half-hearted attempts to tone Eve down, but is clearly awed and fully smitten. The young Eden-dwellers will be played by Jess Clour and Tim Daniels this weekend. Both couples are ITW newcomers.

Leslie J. Stark is God as we’ve never seen Him. He roars, he sputters, he brings down thunder and lightning. But though he may make the earth shake, can he tame this dynamic and determined young woman — whom, as she points out in no uncertain terms — He Himself brought into being? Omnipotent, maybe, but as her argument continues, God begins to question his own assumptions.

Ambiguity atop ambiguity pervades the atmosphere of Jill Jupen’s “The 50-Minute Hour,” in which a psychiatrist and his patient attempt to untangle their relationship in a final appointment. Kevin Ryan is back, directing Martha Hudson as the histrionic Zoey, using quicksilver repartee in efforts to provoke staid George Ricci — called “Dr. Freud” though he is a present-day doctor — into reacting.

Mr. Ricci sits stiffly, specs on nose, pen in hand while Ms. Hudson’s Zoey is in perpetual motion. Nearly shape-shifting, she flings herself about like an overwrought teenager, changes from vulnerable to dangerous, cozily affectionate to grimly hostile, entreating to sarcastic, with only her rage constant. The dialogue is quick and clipped, baring then hiding emotions as the characters venture a step from their delineated doctor/patient roles then retreat back again.

The doctor tries to keep order, but she will have none of it, manically assailing to break through his professional armor. Talk is peppered with quotes from Chekhov, Woody Allen, Simon and Garfunkel, so what first seems an honest expression is invalidated as just an ostentatious cultural reference, cocktail-party patter.

Smoke and mirrors obscure the view in this stuffy office and who can know what’s really going on? Are they friends? Lovers? A sane doctor and a crazy patient? Or a clear-headed patient driven to mad behavior by a false doctor? She charges bitterly that boundaries were crossed. But what boundaries have actually been invaded? Were they real? Imagined? Emotional or physical? Has human connection brought hurt or healing?

The Deity is back again in “God and Satan Walk Into a Missile Silo,” a spare and chilling, blackly satirical drama about how randomly and stupidly we might stumble into Doomsday. The short, thought-provoking piece is written and directed by Wayne Greenwell, who also plays Tover.

The two military men, deAntonio and Tover, identical in their khaki slacks, crisp white shirts, and dark glasses, start out automaton-like, hardly differentiated, with barely any personalities of their own. But soon their humanity emerges, fanned by tedium of the work and meanness. Played by Brad Austin as a quintessential nasty passive-aggressive, deAntonio goads Tover suggestively, goads more, then darts back, all smiles — “I’m just trying to get your goat, that’s all!” — pushing his colleague and humankind to a dangerous edge.

Enter Dei ex Machina God and Satan as old sparring buddies, political rivals zinging their way through yet another debate as life hangs in the balance and the audience holds its breath. Leslie J. Stark is back as the over-worked Good Guy, and Jonathan Revere’s Satan (fresh from a sex-change operation) is his mischievous and delightful opposite number.

In “Touch Me, Touch Me Not” by Sally Dixon Wiener we meet Claudie, the free spirit full of hugs and hope; Bruce Nevin, convincing as Dr. Dalhousie, the abstracted psychiatrist with his head in the books; and Camden, the patient, so phobic to start that he is creepy. But with gradual, subtle shifts by actor Chris Buehler he becomes a touchingly sympathetic character as we see — in effective regressions/flashbacks — how his fear of touching and intimacy began.

We meet his cold mother (Ann Palches), forbidding embraces or “touchy-touchy,” and a stiff and formal father (Jim Osborn) who opts for a handshake, not a hug, and only superficial conversation. Ms. Wiener neatly studs the dialog with the word “touch” and its many synonyms at which Camden recoils just as he shrinks from human contact.

Fey flower child Claudie (Katrina Nevin last week, Corinne de Langavant this weekend) dances through the office like a sunbeam, using all her energy to warm and free the two men, each frozen in his own way, the doctor in his head, the patient in his heart.

As Claudie and Dr. Dalhousie strive with their individual tools and approaches to heal the patient we hope, we worry, we wonder. Will they succeed in helping him break through? Or will they push him so far his fear and resistance win out? Lee Fierro, former ITW artistic director and veteran of the Vineyard stage, directed this gem with characteristic deftness and sensitivity.

Pick of the Crop, 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday, Oct 26 and 27, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $10 admission benefits Payne-Fierro Scholarship Fund. For more information, call 508-693-3166.