At Little Fish, ‘Pick of the Vine’ play festival is complex and full-bodied

Friday and Saturday. 22 and 29. Through Feb. Additional performances 8 p.m. 4; 2 p.m. 11.Where: Little Fish Theatre, 777 S. ★★★&#xbdWhen: 8 p.m. Jan. 21 and 28, and Feb. Centre St., San Pedro.Tickets: $27, $25 for seniors.Length: Two hours and 15 minutes, including intermission.Suitability: Teens and adults.Information: 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org. Thursday, Jan.

PICK OF THE VINE
Unlike Perloff’s other two, more-successful, pieces, here he aims for the straightforward, leaving the audience to decide how to react. But the priest is supposedly not available, so two detectives step in (Rincon, Don Schlossman), leaving the couple to try to lie to law enforcement of the earthly kind.“A Womb With a View,” by Rich Orloff, directed by Perloff, whimsically imagines what goes on behind the scenes in getting a baby (Holly Baker-Kreiswirth) ready for birth.“Screaming,” by Stephen Peirick, directed by Perloff, looks at parents (Jessica Winward, Wolski) with a 3-month-old child. In “The Holy Grill,” by Gary Shaffer, directed by Drake, a young couple (Jessica Winward, Wolski) face their premarital interview at their local church. Of the nine plays, this one seems the toughest to bring to life: It’s less play than serious conversation between one character who’s not listening and one who’s not forthcoming.

“Thick Gnat Hands,” by Erin Mallon, directed by Elissa Anne Polansky, is a lovely study of the wisdom we can glean from illness. His wife sets him straight. Polansky’s actors (Schlossman, Wolski) are far upstage, distanced from the audience, but the actors lure us toward them as the story reminds us to forgive ourselves and live each day with a conscious joy.Equally tender is “The Way It Really Truly Almost Was,” by Brendan Healy, directed by Polansky. A husband (Schlossman) sits at the bedside of his comatose wife (Baker-Kreiswirth), attempting a revisionist look back at his marriage.
Nine short plays by nine playwrights fit together snugly to make a brisk evening of theater in Little Fish Theatre’s 15th annual “Pick of the Vine” play festival.Subjects and themes this year include birth and death, truth and lies, sexuality and gender, parenting, revenge and, topically, politics. The drill sergeant (Rodney Rincon) gets an ear-opening lesson from his soldiers, also in rhyming cadences. Soldiers march to their sergeant’s cadences, but the sentiments expressed don’t fall in line with the sexual politics of a younger and more liberal generation. And even if none of the plays hits home in every viewer, the collection offers the opportunity to sample these playwrights while watching uniformly superb acting by the evening’s eight performers.First up is “I Don’t Know,” by James McLindon, directed by Madeleine Drake.

However, maturity doesn’t mean we can’t keep the magic of Christmas alive, as his parents (Geraldine Fuentes, Rincon) eventually agree.In the sensual and disquieting “Wheelchair,” by Scott Mullen, directed by Richard Perloff, two strangers (Olivia Schlueter-Corey, Bill Wolski) meet on a park bench, where a seemingly random wager ends in revenge. For a couple’s 30-year-old, live-at-home son (Brendan Gill), it’s time to grow up and hear the truth, in “Santa Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” by Patrick Gabridge, directed by Gigi Fusco Meese.