Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer Shorts - Series B *** B

The tepid program offered by Series A of this year’s Summer Shorts festival at 59E59 Theater is partially redeemed by the three plays in Series B.

“Black Flag” by Idris Goodwin presents two freshman roommates meeting for the first time after a summer of online contact. Sydney (Francesca Carpanini) is from Georgia and Deja (Suzette Azariah Gunn) is from Detroit. Things get off to a bad start when Sydney hangs a Confederate flag over her bed, heedless of how it might affect her black roommate. Sydney regards it as a symbol of Southern pride given to her by her mother to remind her of her roots. Deja is reluctant to make a fuss and tries not to be provoked. Her Japanese-American boyfriend Harry (Ruy Iskandar) is less forbearing. The play ends on an ambiguous but satisfying note. The situation is a bit contrived and the scene with the boyfriend seemed false, but I credit the playwright for taking on a timely topic and giving it a nuanced presentation. The actors were convincing and the direction by Logan Vaughn was unfussy. 

“Queen” by Alexander Dinelaris (“On Your Feet” and “Birdman”) was inspired by the Gabriel Garcia Marquez story “The Woman Who Came at Six O’Clock.” Queen (Casandera M. I. Lollar) is a world-weary hooker who shows up every day at six at the restaurant owned by Joe (Saverio Tuzzolo), a bachelor who has loved her unrequitedly for years and treats to to drinks and supper every night. On this day, Queen is quite agitated when she arrives and asks Joe, who is famous for his honesty, to lie for her. When a detective Chris McFarland) arrives and asks about Queen, Joe is put to the test. I thought Ms. Lollar looked too young and pretty to be convincing as Queen. Director Victor Slezak let the play overheat at times.

The evening’s most theatrical and most ambitious work is “The Dark Clothes of Night” by Richard Alfredo, an affectionate send-up of film noir and those who love it too much. Much is demanded of its three fine actors, who excel in the 13 roles they play. Dana Watkins is both Rob, a film professor in a failing marriage, and Burke, a sleuth with an attraction to femmes fatales. Sinem Meltem Dogan is wonderful as his wife Sylvie; an annoying student Emily; a nurse; Delilah Twain, the rich beautiful widow who hires Burke, and Delia, her younger sister. James Rees is a delight as Rob’s academic colleague Barry, a detective, the sisters’ dotty father, a wacky couples therapist and an evil doctor. The dialogue is archly hilarious. The production is greatly enhanced by projections by Daniel Mueller that evoke the noir milieu. The play falters a bit in its final moments, but not enough to dampen one’s enjoyment of an extremely clever work. The multitalented Alesander Dinelaris directed.

For the other productions credits, please see my review of Series A.

Summer Shorts - Series A ** C

The Festival of New American Short Plays is celebrating its 10th year with two series of three plays each at 59E59 Theater. The three plays in Series A, performed without intermission, last barely 80 minutes. 

“The Helpers” by Cusi Cram, presents two characters, a retired psychiatrist (Maggie Burke) and a former patient (David Deblinger), who meet on a bench in Greenwich Village on a cold winter day to settle some unfinished business. It’s a brief character sketch that doesn’t go very deep. The acting is adequate as is the direction by Jessi D. Hill.

Neil LaBute is back again this year with “After the Wedding,” in which a husband and wife (Frank Harts and Elizabeth Masucci) who have been married 5 or 6 years, face the audience in separate pools of light and engage in two overlapping monologues that start by relating amusing bits about their marriage but end up telling about a tragic event that occurred at the start of their honeymoon which they have tried hard to avoid thinking about. Since this is LaBute, there is some sexual content. The actors are convincing and Maira Mileaf’s direction is smooth. 

“This Is How It Ends” by A. Rey Pamatmat, by far the longest of the three plays, is an unwieldy absurdist look at the end of the world as seen by a gay man Jake (Chinaza Uche), Annie (Kerry Warren), the roommate he found on Craigslist  who reveals that she is really the Antichrist and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — Death (Nadine Malouf), Famine (Rosa Gilmore), Pestilence (Sathya Sridharan) and War (Patrick Cummings). It turns out that the latter two are a downlow item. The plot is too disjointed to make much sense although director Ed Sylvanus Iskander (“The Mysteries” at The Flea) bravely tries.

The simple set by Rebecca Lord-Surratt features a back wall of louvred panels that swivel to reveal a smooth surface for projections on the reverse side. The costumes by Amy Sutton for the Four Horsemen are quite amusing. 

All in all, it was not a very satisying program. Before the first play, there was an interesting stop-motion short film of the crew assembling the set. The start was delayed for ten minutes by an argument over a seat between a man in a wheelchair and a woman with a walker that forced the house manager to intervene and got a round of applause from the audience when calm was restored. Would that the plays had been equally involving.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Men on Boats ** C-

The Playwrights Horizons revival of last summer’s Clubbed Thumb hit production has received almost unanimous critical acclaim. The Times made it a Critic’s Pick and it has been extended by popular demand. Playwright Jaclyn Backhaus's subject is the famed Powell expedition of 1869, during which 10 intrepid men in four small boats set out to traverse the Green and Colorado Rivers from Wyoming to Nevada and become the first white men to travel the length of the Grand Canyon. The top-notch cast, ably directed by Will Davis, recreates the rhythms of daily life, the rivalries, the insecurities, the dangers and defections the group endured. The perils of sailing through white water is memorably captured by effective choreography. The play’s gimmick is that all the roles are played by women. Its sensibility is archly contemporary, rather than historical. For the first twenty minutes or so, this worked for me. However, the play soon became repetitive and cartoonish. It eventually seemed like a very long pointless skit that trivialized its subject and wore out its welcome long before it ended. I will grant that the cast was uniformly good, the scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado was attractive and the costumes by Asta Bennie Hostetter were apt. The audience seemed to love it; the young woman next to me broke into uproarious laughter at least once a minute. I wish I had been able to join in the approbation. Perhaps I would have been less disappointed if my expectations had not been raised so high by all the praise. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission.