With cheating so hip today, Andrea Skola and Shrewd Productions have put together eight original 10-minute plays that explore the contemporary nuances of being a cheat

Arts Review


Hyde Park Theatre, through May 13

Cheating is so hot right now, it's like the new black. Whether it's you cutting corners on a mile jog, an ex-president's break from marital monogamy, or a writer telling Oprah about a bogus memoir, everybody's doing it. In fact, I'm doing it right now. Maybe I used spell-check instead of a dictionary while writing this review. Isn't that what cheating is? Pretending to be more than who you are? Escaping through deception? Betraying trust? There are as many perspectives on "cheating" as there are ways to do it or works written about doing it. It is an exhausted conflict in dramas when you think about Othello, Dante's Inferno, or Pinter's Betrayal.

Hanging on the skirts of Frontera's fringe, Andrea Skola has collaborated with Shrewd Productions to put together eight 10-minute themed plays just to explore the contemporary nuances of being a cheat. A doughty adherent of these piecemeal collaborations, Skola – who also assembled a chick & a dude productions' similarly structured StallGraffiti ATX – ran around with scissors, gathering playwrights' pint-sized scripts, then glued them together like a collage of autonomous scenes with corrupt morals as the main prop, adding choreographed vignettes to indie music plus auto-dramas by the cast members between the pieces. She is at the crest of a dozen actors spread across the stage, who in unison move stealthily and sexily, and some of them reappear in a transitional game that pops up intermittently between plays.

The act of cheating sits between the pages of an exam during Mical Trejo's "Pumpkin Eater." During a typical exchange between a goody-goody and a stoner looking for answers to the test, we are amusedly reminded of what cheaters don't do well: prosper. While Trejo's play seems to condemn the immoral deed, the rest of the first act applauds getting away with it and coming out on top. "All Apologies" by George Brant features Weldon Phillips as every politician's dream, a guy who will willingly take the blame for his bad behavior. As he describes how he makes his living as a professional scapegoat, taking large sums of money from pols and big businessmen who need a fall guy, we find ourselves strangely warming up to this unapologetic sociopath. Then in Michael Krane's "The Inside Force," we witness the ultimate contest between hypnotists, megalomaniacal characters who slyly deceive others and will play dirty to beat an opponent. A laugh-out-loud wedded duel perfectly displays the secrets of a soap opera affair in Robert LeBlanc's "Love, Trust, and Escalation." Ken Webster's biting "Strange Bedfellows" lets red and blue politics between lovers bleed into the sheets. The show ends with Monika Bustamante's dark "Lie/Mind/Game/On," a series of postmortem confessionals delivered by actors who stand chillingly aglow like ghosts over their graves. One woman discusses how she swindled a fellow patient for cancer treatment; one rogue pleads to stealing a card in a poker game; one man details his lost fight against Katrina. Each moving or tongue-in-cheek tale begs for absolution yet without spouting value judgments. The plays stand alone but get confused with the actors' auto-dramas and Skola's choreographed transitions. It's quite the mini-cheating fest.

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Cheater, Andrea Skola, Shrewd Productions, StallGraffiti ATX, Mical Trejo, Pumpkin Eater, All Apologies, George Brant, Weldon Phillips, Michael Krane, The Inside Force, Robert LeBlanc, Love, Trust, and Escalation, Ken Webster, Strange Bedfellows, Monika Bustamante, Lie / Mind / Game / On

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