Playwright John Justice takes one literary premise not far enough and another one too far in Two Sams, two one-acts that Shakespeare & Originals presents at Manbites Dog Theater.
Papa Knew Rilke searches Samuel Beckett's time in the French Resistance for a punchline to the question, "But isn't torturing a nihilist redundant?" Had the Germans actually caught Beckett, of course he would have been killed. But in this uneasy mix of No Exit and Hogan's Heroes, the existential horrors he's already invented conveniently outstrip those that the dizzy, ditzy Schatzi the Nazi can supply. Moments of true wit enliven things, if Jeffery Detwiler seems a mismatch as Beckett. But Justice ultimately preoccupies himself with low verbal humor, abandoning more intriguing avenues of inquiry.
In Vile Melancholy, Tom Marriott portrays a Samuel Johnson in decline: a human jukebox of aphorisms, dependent upon boorish patron Henry Thrale for shelter, and dogged by the faithful, detested Boswell who worsens all reversals by witnessing them. In Justice's lengthy mix of wormwood and revelry, Flynt Burton and Detwiler amuse as bratty prodigy Queeney and the ghost who appears to her. Hope Hynes plays it straight as the patron's wife, devoted to Johnson but not in love with him. Derrick Ivey supports as Boswell and the amorous Piozzi.