Drive-In Dreams, to my mind the most successful of the three one-acts presented in this first Summer Shorts program, is a genial slice-of-life piece involving four East Texas teenagers at a drive-in movie in 1961. Imagine The Last Picture Show, the 1971 film by Peter Bogdanovich, a few years later. Its simple premise is getting into a girl’s otherwise Catholic panties for the first time. Football hero Whit (Nick Gehlfuss) and inevitable prom queen Richie (Megan Ketch) are more awkward and hesitant in the front seat (her call) than D.L. (Connor Buckley) and Marge (Erin Darke) happily wrestling in the back (Marge’s call).
Whit’s having enlisted in the army because “We both know I’m not going to make it out of algebra,” i.e. he can’t see a clear future, eventually pushes Richie further than they’ve ever gone, but afterwards neither is sure whether or not they’ve actually done “it.” The film on the screen is Kirk Douglas in The Vikings, an amusing contrast to the boys’ intentions. Dialogue is credible, warm, and overly concerned in exactly the right manner. All four players have excellent, unexaggerated accents. Gelfhuss and Buckley exhibit apt unease in their lankly, testosterone-driven bodies. Darke shows comic skill. Gelfhuss handles a battle between sweetness and compulsion with nuance.
Author James McClure has an ear for natural dialogue and colorful particulars. Direction by Billy Hopkins is completely empathetic. Even the groping feels real. The piece would’ve been less jarring with a dimming of lights rather than black-outs between its brief scenes.
Drive-In Dreams by James McClure
Directed by Billy Hopkins
With Connor Buckley, Nick Gehlfuss, Erin Darke, Megan Ketch
The Accidental Pundette by monologist and contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning Nancy Giles, gives us a glimpse of her serendipitous entrée into the field of commentary followed by Giles’ humorous take on being a black woman in a society that keeps misunderstanding. With lights up, the actress talks directly to us. Suggesting the audience hold hands with a neighbor, she approaches the subject with a summer camp song taught to her at aged 9: Who will survive America? Very few people, no pigs at all! It seems her mother had unwittingly sent the kids to a Black Panther Jr. Camp “because it was within walking distance and it was free.”
Racial stereotypes bookmarked and revealed in one of the many Nancy Drew books exemplify growing awareness, giving her political voice. Participation on a Larry King panel “Black conservatives haven’t lost their blackness, they’ve lost their minds” leads to an exchange of wry emails in response to critical comments.
Giles is smart, ingratiating, and at ease on the stage. The piece would’ve been better served with a bit more structure.
The Accidental Pundette
Written and Performed by Nancy Giles
Spit a speed-based card game played until all of someone’s cards are gone, may be the first entirely playing card-centric theatrical piece since 1976’s The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn. The earlier dramatization had emotional content, gentle momentum, and the terrific subtle acting of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. This shares none of those attributes. Horace (Arthur French), an elderly black man and Heather (India Ennenga), a middle class white girl in her early teens, meet as the finalists of a card tournament at what is perhaps a community center. A friendship develops. Why? Kindness? Card tricks? When her mother finds out with whom Heather is spending so much of her time, things are forced to change.
Neither the playwright nor her actors have sufficient chops to keep us interested. Wendy Kesselman presents a situation with no story, French shows no emotional involvement, Ennega’s halting delivery seems like poor technique rather than a stumbling search for expression. Direction by Jade King Carroll offers only two passive bodies and a single hand shuffle.
Spit by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Jade King Carroll
With Arthur French, India Ennenga
Summer Shorts Series A
In Repertory with Series B Through September 1, 2012
59E59 St Theaters
Photos: Rahav Iggy Segev
Top: Drive-in Dreams, left to right: Megan Ketch, Connor Buckley, Erin Darke, Nick Gehlfuss
Middle: Accidental Pundette—Nancy Giles
Bottom: Split—Arthur French, India Ennenga