The scripts of Lawrence playwright Chris Nelson are familiar on the city's stages, but Nelson's fifth and latest effort, "Writing Love Songs for Holly," is by far his best.
The romantic comedy, a collaborative production of English Alternative Theatre and Card Table Theatre, is a winner. Not only are the characters and action fully developed but the words are crafted with intelligence, wit and precision.
The 45-minute, one-act play centers on three friends -- Isaac (Jerry Mitchell), a cut-up who's in a long-standing but boring relationship with Paula; Jesse (Ryan Westhoff), who loves Caroline (Emily Anne Beste) but does stupid things because of his jealousy; and Cole (Andrew Stowers), a poet who's afraid to approach Holly (Christina Schafer) because he thinks getting to know her will ruin his fantasy.
Mitchell, who rarely disappoints when he walks on-stage, shows off his comic timing once again and makes quirky Isaac his own. Westhoff pulls off the anger and angst of a young man in the confused state of early love. And Stowers balances sweetness and self-doubt in his character.
The directorial fingerprints of Will Averill are all over this work. He and Nelson make a great theatrical team.
On the other hand, the first offering of the night, "Croquet," by Sam Ward Osterhout, was not as satisfying. But blame can't be placed on the actors and the director.
The 45-minute script simply seemed incomplete -- as if we'd seen Act One and then were denied Act Two. Questions about the characters remain unanswered. Questions about the plot remain unanswered. The ending isn't predictable, but it certainly doesn't deliver a punch either.
"Croquet" is a script lying in wait -- there's a bigger story there waiting to be told. The question is: Will the playwright take the challenge?
"Croquet" and "Writing Love Songs for Holly" will continue at 8 p.m. today through Friday at Lawrence Arts Center, 200 W. Ninth.
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.