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By Alan Sherrod of ArtsKnoxville

With apologies to Henry David Thoreau — do people lead lives of quiet comic desperation? That seems to be the vastly entertaining and charming statement of Flying Anvil Theatre’s current production, 8 x 10, a collection of short plays now in performances though August 19. That theme, one in which characters are unwittingly beset by the comic irony of a situation, is covered in the eight plays by ten actors—hence the evening’s title. In this case, the works are great examples of short-play writing—the performances, great examples of comedic vignette acting.

Quiet comic desperation inhabits two of the plays by Margy Ragsdale, Statistical Reasoning and A Gun on the Table, which feature the same characters, a supposedly quiet and average English couple, James (David Snow) and Millicent (Wendie Wilson), reading and knitting in their quiet and average living room. But even average people reveal their secrets, it seems. Ragsdale has created a terrific scenario built on twists of idiom and language, fuel for marvelous performances by Snow and Wilson. The pair was directed with an obvious ear for comic pacing by Carrie Booher-Thompson.

In addition to writing the aforementioned pair of plays and one other, Shakespeare in Progress, Ragsdale performed in two of the evening’s works, Rattlesnake Canyon by Staci Swedeen and The Origin Story of Lewis Hackett by Ron Burch, both directed by Terri Copeland Pfeiffer. In the former, Ragsdale and Lisa Silverman are terrific as Karen and Brenda, two middle-aged women lost on a hike in the southwest, who are forced to confront each other’s personality flaws as well as their own insecurities. In The Origin Story of Lewis Hackett, a trio of office workers (David Steele, Steve Louis, and Ragsdale) gossip about the reasons for their co-worker, Lewis Hackett (Michael Marks), getting a promotion from the boss, Nancy (Windie Wilson). As it turns out, office paranoia really can be justified.

Holding up a mirror to many thirty-something couples was the most intimate piece of the evening, In the Meantime by Sharon E. Cooper. Stephanie and Paul are living the winter of their discontent in a New York City studio apartment and on the verge of a break-up. Their quiet desperation, full of subtle moments of revelation, was beautifully handled by Crystal-Marie Alberson and Dennis Hart, suffused with an emotional underpinning by director Keri McClain.

McClain also directed The Pennysaver by Staci Swedeen, a work revolving around a not-quite-right family (Angela Grant and Michael Marks), their cat (a very funny Dennis Hart), and their toddler daughter (a deliciously bratty Steve Louis), and their attempt to sell a bed via the so-titled newspaper. Not really surprising, the potential buyers that come to examine the bed (Alberson and Steele) are equally strange in their own way.

The evening wrapped up with We Cannot Know the Mind of God by Mikhail Horowitz, a thinly disguised, if not twisted, religious allegory of sorts, that is something akin to a history of the world in 10 minutes featuring God (Snow), Adam (Steele), Eve (Alberson), and the Angel of Death (Silverman). Booher-Thompson directed.

Believe it or not, an equal participant in the evening was the amusing and totally inventive set design scheme of flat cards with cartooned, magic-marker details acting as furniture, decor, and props, all fastened to boxes and walls with Velcro.

8 x 10 runs through August 19 at Flying Anvil Theatre, 1300 Rocky Hill Road