A two-cottage industry, Power Plays is two one-acters by Elaine May framing one by Alan Arkin, who directed all three, and featuring them and two of their respective offspring: Elaine’s daughter, Jeannie Berlin, and one of Alan’s actor sons, Anthony. Families that play together stay together – when talented – in our warm affection, as these do. The plays themselves are an iffier matter.
The opener, The Way of All Fish, is the best of the lot. A dynamo of a celebrity employer, finding her dinner options collapse, is reduced to Japanese takeout with her passive-aggressive secretary, who wants to be promoted to assistant and gradually reveals her persistent fantasy of achieving fame by assassinating someone famous. The ensuing eggshell dance is hilarious, where cat and mouse exchange roles in dizzying rotation.
Next comes Virtual Reality, in which a warehouse foreman tyrannizes a strangely literate but befuddled worker into rehearsing the unpacking of delayed crates by emptying imaginary ones. The exasperated employee invents goods that the supervisor can approve or reject without providing guidance or explanation. It is absurdist farce that, though clever, could use some pruning.
What should be the culmination for this splendid foursome, In and Out of Light, about a Jewish dentist planning a bit of adultery with his ex-stripper hygienist, while a hypochondriacal patient and problem son with dread revelations clamor for unwanted attention, proves anticlimactic. Though the dentist’s office is almost as good a vaudeville venue as the bedroom, in this overextended skit daffy turns into taffy, and a surfeit. An uneven evening, then, but not without dividends.