Saturday, October 29, 2016

Two Class Acts *** B-

For the final offering at its White Street home before moving to a new theater four blocks south, The Flea is presenting a pair of one-act plays by A.R. Gurney. This is fitting because Gurney has written several plays for them over the last several years and will have one of the performing spaces in the new building named for him. The two plays are separately ticketed, but it is advisable to see them back to back on the same evening. (The Flea's ticket prices are so low that the cost ot the two plays together is less than one play at most theaters.) Both deal with college faculty who teach Greek literature. 

In Squash, which we must deduce is set in the 1970’s, professor Dan Proctor (Dan Amboyer) likes to unwind with a game of squash after work. One day he is accosted in the locker room by a student, Gerald Caskey (Rodney Richardson), who allegedly is there to turn in a term paper early. He then admits that he also wanted to see Dan naked. (Yes, there’s brief non-frontal male nudity and Dan’s body is worthy of a Praxiteles.) Gerald later comes to Dan’s office to complain about the low grade on his term paper and find out whether it was because of their locker room encounter. Meanwhile Dan’s wife Becky (Nicole Lowrance) begrudges the time Dan spends on squash rather than at home and wishes he would do more to improve his chances of getting tenure. Implausibly Dan goes to a bar recommended by Gerald, unaware that it is a gay bar. He comes to question his own sexuality and eventually approaches Gerald. However Gerald has made discoveries of his own.

For Ajax, the smaller downstairs theater has been converted to a classroom with student tables and a lectern. Each student table has a syllabus for “Intro to Classic Greek Drama” on it. Meg Tucker (Olivia Jampol, who alternates with Rachel Lin) is a failed actress who is filling in as an adjunct instructor for a professor on sabbatical. Her lesson plan is disrupted by the late arrival of Adam Feldman (Chris Tabet, who alternates with Ben Lorenz), an enthusiastic but willful student who insists on writing an adaptation of Sophocles’s Ajax instead of a term paper on Aeschylus. His retelling of the story through the prism of PTSD is a big success when it is staged at a small venue on campus. Adam has persuaded the reluctant Meg to play the role of mistress to his Ajax. The university decides to stage Adam’s play at their main theater to promote their image. At this point the play goes seriously off the rails. Adam keeps revising the play and eventually turns it into an allegory about the Israelis and the Palestinians. The consequences are predictable. In a “happy” ending, we learn that the play will find a home at an adventurous New York theater called The Flea. 

Both plays starts promisingly, but end disappointingly. The acting runs from fair to good, with Amboyer standing out. The immersive sets by Jason Sherwood are excellent. In Squash, the long rectangular space is divided into four square playing areas for the locker room, dining room, office and bar, with two rows of seats facing each other along the long walls. The costumes by Sky Switser are appropriate to the characters. Stafford Arrima’s fluid direction is admirable.

Neither play is top-drawer Gurney, but, for me at least, even second-drawer Gurney is enjoyable. Running time for the two plays together: two hours total, including the time between plays.

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