Theater Review - Crosstown traffic

In the theatrical trio of short plays Land of the Free Fall, playwright Karla Jennings employs clever wordplay to consider moms, jobs and cars — three things that make America great and terrible. Part of “Triple Play,” Working Title Playwrights’ repertory of works by local writers, Free Fall emphasizes language over character, with Jennings’ dialogue commanding more interest than the actors who deliver it.

Some Woody Allen-style one-liners provide the highlights of “Mother,” a sitcom-level sketch about a teen milquetoast (Christopher Skinner) who encounters four women who all legitimately claim to be his parent. His rich, lusty stepmom (Claire Brown) claims to be the best maternal figure because she employed the servants who nurtured him: “I hired my fingers to the bone for you!”

“Mother’s” treatment of 21st-century parenting lacks subtlety, and cartoonish performances make it even more shrill. As a deranged hippie, Traci Redmond seems to be doing an impression of Martin Short doing an impression of a drug-addled dowager.

Fortunately, Redmond brings her volume down for a more credible, familiar role as a salty secretary in “Avalanche,” a ragged slice of corporate life. The play rambles as it depicts office drones fretting over job security. But it snaps to attention with the arrival of Claire Brown’s hostile hatchet-woman, who evasively answers questions about the company’s “involuntary new career opportunities program.”

If “Avalanche” shows a command of Dilbert-esque double-speak, “Acceleration Nation” suggests a kind of beat poetry as the ensemble waxes rhapsodic about how the automobile has simultaneously raised and lowered the U.S. standard of living. It’s a puzzling piece, in which a surreal chorus about the need for speed gives way to the mournful reflections of a man (Tony Falcitelli) who lost his wife in a traffic accident.

When “Acceleration Nation” expands its thesis to include shopping malls and serial stalkers, the play runs out of gas. Taken as a whole, Land of the Free Fall takes some sincere if scattershot broadsides at problems in the heart of the American motherland.

Land of the Free Fall plays in repertory with Death and the Middleman and Daddy’s Home through June 23 at the Neighborhood Playhouse Discovery Arena, 430 W. Trinity Place. Mon, Thur.-Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. 5 p.m. $12. 404-373-5311.