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'Buffalo Quickies' runs gamut from zany to poignant

“Buffalo Quickies,” Alleyway Theatre’s festival of one-act plays, is a spring ritual, the presentation of world and regional premieres written by playwrights near and far. It has been a breeding ground for first-time playwrights, a launching pad for full productions, and a showcase for the theater’s annual Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition. This year’s installation celebrates the festival’s 25th anniversary by featuring eight plays by nine Western New York playwrights.

Joyce Stilson directs “Quickies,” as in years past, with an organized and swift hand. The evening flows from zany comedy to heartfelt monologue to family dramedy and back again with considerable efficiency; the 10-minute intermission is hardly necessary.

For the most part, these are good plays, their successes and failures falling comfortably on a bell curve. The best written among them are the ones that open a window onto a scene in someone’s life, telling their story in real time and with an honest blend of drama and comedy – the way life really plays out. For me, this has always been the strength of the one-act format, to show us just what we can see, illuminating a bigger world in the microcosm.

In “Shoot the Weatherman,” a two-hander by actor Mike Randall, a disgruntled lawyer (Mike Starzynski) takes an unimpressed weatherman (Timothy Patrick Finnegan) for hostage. It would seem Randall, noted Channel 7 meteorologist by day, had fun writing this subversive fan fiction. It’s an efficient use of the format, but its flat narrative needs some air. Finnegan gives a sly, devious performance that’s quite entertaining and against type. Starzynski, though, plays it safe in lieu of going all-out maniacal, or even fearful. A finalist for the Maxim Mazumdar prize, this one left me scratching my head.

Jennifer Tromble’s “Black Friday,” the winner of that competition, is as clever as a New Yorker cartoon, but also as short-lived. When nervous Page (Edith Grossman) tells her bickering parents (Stephanie Bax and Starzynski) about her new boyfriend, all hell breaks loose. Bax and Starzynski could amp up their caricatures tenfold, though; go big or stay home. Grossman gives one of many focused performances here.

Matthew Boyle’s “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” needs an overhaul. The story is laudable and deserving: a veteran with PTSD on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and his pregnant wife, clinging to optimism – nothing objectionable there. But Boyle muzzles the scene’s intensity with forced exposition and overwrought communication. Sometimes, even with a single scene, a play needs less dialogue.

Bethany Sparacio incites laughter at lights-up as the gun-toting widow in Camilla Maxwell’s “Shirley vs. The Squirrels,” a smart and somehow realistic comedy. (Todd Warfield’s costumes are a hit, too.) She also shines in Mark C. Lloyd’s eccentric “Swans in Winter,” opposite Tyler Brown, who gives consistent performances throughout the program. Sparacio’s a Mae West type (with a little Cyndi Lauper), whose bawdy delivery is thankfully applied judiciously.

Donna Hoke’s “Jack Pork,” and Winifred Storm and Jon Elston’s “Wrath!” offer intelligent wit on a variety of pop-culture norms and identity battles. Both enlist this riotous ensemble to frolic and foil, happily so.

And in a solo performance that I’m afraid might go underrated, Bax doles out a mighty monologue for Anna Kay France’s “Bogie and Harold.” France’s writing is balanced, even when her character does not appear to be, oscillating between reality and fantasy. Bax’s intuition rides the wave with beautiful ease, employing back-pocket tactics that, frankly, I haven’t seen her use before. She practically strangles this spotlight. When the clock’s ticking, sometimes that’s what it takes.

THEATER REVIEW

“Buffalo Quickies”

3.5 stars (out of four)

A one-act play festival. Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley. Through April 9 with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets are $25 to $13. For tickets and info: alleyway.com, 852-2600.

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