LaBute New Theater Festival– Six Plays, One Superior

In the order they were presented:

Stand Up For Oneself by Lexi Wolfe (Alicia Smith, Mark Ryan Anderson) is a pick up scene at a noisy party with neither rhyme nor reason. The 26 year-old aggressor is ostensibly attracted to men-not boys. She comes on to a loner with MS who has zero charisma. Lucas tilts towards being believable as written, neither character is believable as played. Anderson doesn’t come close to looking 40 plus years.

A concept taffy-pulled into a one act play, Present Tense by Peter Grandbois and Nancy Bell (Justin Ivan Brown, Jenny Smith) centers on a couple’s sexting in simple, repetitive, decidedly unsteamy verbiage with which Gertrude Stein would’ve been comfortable: “I’m talking to you. I’m telling you things, talking and talking.” We see them disrobing in a hotel room, breathing heavy, apparently relating, but never quite touching, and then to clarify, on their various devices. There’s one funny directorial moment when laptops feature in a horizontal clinch. Then, out of nowhere, the couple ends up actually embracing. Go figure. The actors do their best with weak material.

bedJustin Ivan Brown and Jenny Smith in Present Tense 

Two Irishmen Digging A Ditch by G.D.Kimble is a two scene, one act. The first features a bruised and naked Mark Ryan Anderson as a tortured IRA? foot soldier ranting at his captors. It takes a little time to realize any context because of the thorough ambiguity of the writing. Acting is histrionic. Nor is there any reason to subject poor Mr. Anderson to the awkward Elephant Man position of standing, shaking, one arm through his legs to cover genitals. A man in that shape would not be vertical.

In scene two, Justin Ivan Brown is digging a grave under the watchful eye of Neil Magnuso, who casually drinks a beer as he reads the paper in a lawn chair. It’s almost immediately apparent the grave is Brown’s and that he betrayed the now dead prisoner who was Magnuso’s best friend and comrade. The situation displays no tension. “You look like a man who’s dug a lot of holes.”Both scenes end with the same lengthy Irish/religion joke which seems apt in neither case.

elvis

Alicia Smith, Neil Magnuson and Michael Hogan in The Comeback Special 

The Comeback Special by JJ Strong (Alicia Smith, Neil Magnuson, Michael Hogan) revolves around a young couple’s trip to Graceland (bringing to light personality differences) and their encounter with the ghost of Elvis Presley stuck between worlds. The idea, which seems written in order to present a nifty ending, doesn’t offer enough good writing to hold our attention. Magnuson’s lack of exaggeration playing Elvis keeps the character from being fun. Hogan is a better, more naturalistic actor caught in the wrong play.

In Coffee House Greenwich Village by John Doble (Mark Ryan Anderson, Jenny Smith, Justin Ivan Brown), two dating site correspondents meet for the first time at a café manned by an unaccountably taunting waiter telegraphing if not the particulars, certainly the fact of the finale. At first, they both seem bland. He’s straightforward, she craves mystery and adventure. Robbery followed by murder come up in conversation and evolve to potential aphrodisiac. Another intriguing idea with unconvincing dialogue.

lastMichael Hogan in Kandahar

Kandahar by Neil LaBute is a splendid one man play in which a war veteran is being questioned after jealously (viciously) murdering his wife and opening fire in the mess hall. Temper now in check but for one brief, aborted outburst, the character muses on how things could not have been otherwise. Playwright LaBute has eschewed black and white depiction creating an unfortunately familiar situation with well chosen specifics and economy of text.

Michael Hogan is completely credible. The compellingly low key actor takes his time, making every nuanced emotion seem manifest as we watch. Apparently unconscious gestures like scratching and a stretch work wonderfully. Hogan seems to see his tribunal. Direction of this is far superior to any of the other plays. A terrific piece of work by all involved. You just have to get through five less than satisfying efforts before it.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Justin Ivan Brown and Neil Magnuson in Two Irishmen Are Digging a Ditch 

LaBute New Theater Festival
Directed by Milton Zoth and John Pierson
Produced by St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Through February 7, 2016
59E59 Theaters  
50 East 59th Street

About Alix Cohen (900 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.