By Arlene McKanic

Five short, funny, absurdist plays kick off “Act 5: One Act, the 2010 Long Island City New Play Festival,” at The Secret Theatre through Jan. 24. The plays are sly and punchy commentaries on times; the evening of the first program begins with “Kiss Today Goodbye,” written by Jack Dyville and directed by Nora Aboali, which imagines the night Bristol Palin told her parents that she was pregnant. One can just about imagine that it happened just this way, with everyone in their sleepwear, with Sarah (Alison Yates) stressing about how this is going to affect her candidacy, the affable but dumb Todd (Tyler Jakes) not knowing what to do, and Bristol (Lexie Helgerson) acting the same type of entitled snippet as her mother.

“The Moor’s Petard,” written by Jean Hart and directed by Olivia O’Brien, is a spoof of “Othello,” though the names have been changed — copyright and all that. Olivio the Moor (Nicholas Newton) is about to embark once again on a military campaign, while the racist and envious Ignatius, played by Stephen Calkins, openly works to sabotage him, despite the warnings of his whip-smart wife Elmira (Molly Gilman). In the meantime Olivio’s sexy wife Desiree, played by Kim Cichelli, languishes in their bedroom.

One hesitates to say who plays Cassio, but in this version Ignatius’ plan doesn’t work as well as Iago’s, and Elmira represents the slandered Desiree in court. But don’t worry — it’s a comedy.

“Do you think I can get my G.E.D.?” Ignatius whines to Elmira in the end.

The most moving of the plays is Racheline Maltese’s “Dogboy and Justine,” directed by Cash Tilton. The setting is a brothel that specializes in kink, and the company duly thanks David Menkes Leather for the scary props and costume pieces. All the working girls are getting clients but Mistress Justine, who has to content herself with a frequent and pathetic caller who wants to be treated like a dog. “Everybody likes dogs,” he explains.

Though funny, Maltese’s work has a depth and poignancy that the other plays don’t access. The caller, played by Christian Barber, gets across an excruciating loneliness, even as we never see him. Stacy Ann Strong is the voice of his distressed mother, who sheds a sad light on why her son is the way he is. Melissa Ferraro plays Justine with a nearly maternal compassion; she’s not hard like the other girls Jeannie (Amanda Boekelheide), Erika (Laneshia Pryor) or Dynamite (Christy Richardson). This is a play that lingers in the mind.

In “Winners,” three “office friends” buy a winning lottery ticket, only to lose it. The waspish Sarah (Strong, again), loopy sweetnatured Lucy (Breanne Hakes) and usually organized Claire (Meg Kiley Smith) are hilarious as they upend their office looking for the ticket that will whisk them out of debt and office slavery. All the while descend into mutual distrust while being tormented by their office mate Kevin, played with slappable glee by Calkins. “Winners” was written by Kirsten Anderson, and directed by Ariel Francoeur, with sound design by Sean Demers.

“Fallout” is the most absurd of the plays. Benny (Nick Caruso) and Eric (Christian Barber) wake up to find a Russian nuclear warhead on their living room floor. The narrator (Alexandra Dickson) — who can be seen by both of these slackers — announces to the audience that nuclear war has been declared everywhere, and Eric and Benny are just about the only people left on earth.

They are cool with this. Eric goes looting on Thursdays, and Benny seems to sort of hang out — it’s not like there are any jobs anymore. Unfortunately there are morlocks/berserkos/zombies running around a la “28 Days Later” and “I Am Legend,” but they can be dealt with too.

“Fallout” was directed by Bridget Leak and written by Kyle Anderson, and has a clever sound design by Trey Tatum. At one point the boys watch a newscaster announce the end of the world with a calmness that recalls the professional serenity of most of those newscasters who announced 9/11. Then, when a nuke presumably hits her station, everything goes silent.

Program 2 was scheduled to begin Jan. 13 and run through Jan. 17. The audience is given a ballot along with the program to vote for their favorite play, and the final selection of plays will run from Jan. 20-24. If Program 2 is like Program 1, the festival is well worth seeing.

If You Go

Act 5: One Act

When: Program 2, Jan. 13-16 at 8 p.m., Jan. 16 at 3:30 p.m.; Program 3 (favorites by audience vote), Jan. 20-23, 8 p.m., Jan. 23, 3:30 p.m.

Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City

Contact: 392-0722 or info@secrettheatre.com

Web site: secrettheatre.com

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