In the program notes for Churchill in Short(s)?, dramaturg Ariel Nereson quotes Carol Churchill as saying: "Playwrights don't give answers, they ask questions."
Is that so, Ms. Churchill? Then how do you explain "The After-Dinner Joke," an endless, pedantic, boring-as-asphalt tirade against everyone Churchill personally dislikes? For a one-act that seeks to "ask questions," "Joke" is more like the longest, shrillest, preachiest manifesto I've ever heard. If you have a fondness for bourgeois leftist dramatists screaming at you about who's to blame for all the world's problems, by all means, see Churchill in Short(s)?, now at the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre.
But if you find this kind of "theater" obnoxious and condescending, you might skip Short(s). If you prefer character development and storytelling, you might re-watch an episode of The Wire, which shares Churchill's sentiments and yet is superior in every way. If you see a name like Churchill in Short(s)? and start throwing up in your mouth -- because this kind of title drips with faux-playfulness and overthought pretension -- I recommend a hot chocolate on the couch instead.
There are three plays in Short(s), but by the end of "Joke," you will forget all about "Lovesick" and "This Is a Chair." Which is too bad, because "Lovesick" is a witty little satire about the dangers of psychiatry. Granted, Churchill seems to know almost nothing about psychiatry, and her 1962 one-act is just a run-of-the-mill paranoid fantasia, but it's amusing all the same.
In contrast, "This Is a Chair" is a series of tone-poems about people doing ordinary things. Headlines are projected on the back wall, signifying Big Issues, like poverty and war, but Churchill's characters just go about their daily business. In other words, you, audience, are only a bunch of petty drones too preoccupied with yourselves to care about starving babies in Uganda.
Aren't you glad you came out tonight?
Who calls this theater? What is the point of all this? Why would Pitt Rep bother with such pompous soliloquies? Does director Tommy Costello think so little of his audience? And why conscript eager undergrads for such unchallenging pageantry?
Or am I asking too many questions?
Churchill in Short(s)?continues through Sun., Feb. 27. Henry Heymann Theatre, 4301 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-624-7529 or www.play.pitt.edu