Summer Shorts: Festival of New American Plays – Program B

In its 12th year, Summer Shorts presents a grab bag of six one act plays over two programs.

Sparring Partner by Neil LaBute
Directed by J.J. Kandel
With Joanna Christie and Keilyn Durrel Jones

The most successful one act this evening, LaBute’s piece, is far less angrily misogynistic than those we’re accustomed to expect from the playwright. It’s adroitly written with a path to closure that’s both credible and engaging.

A young woman (Joanna Christie) and her somewhat older Boss (Keilyn Durrel Jones) are having lunch on a park bench, taking longer than other employees might. They’ve apparently been doing this for years and have an easy, affectionate, sexually tinged rapport. The vertebrae of dialogue is a competitive movie guessing game.

Joanna Christie and Keilun Durrel Jones

Over the course of this particular lunch, our heroine finds the courage to press her companion for admission of their relationship and any possible future. Of course, he’s married. In fact, nothing that happens after the reveal (to us) is surprising, but the story unfurls with such excellent dialogue and acting, it simply doesn’t matter. A skillful play.

Joanna Christie and Keilyn Durrel Jones are both very fine. Chemistry is terrific. Timing couldn’t be better. Action, reaction, thought, and feeling read believable. These two create a gem.

J.J. Kandel, president of Throughline Artists and a founder of Summer Shorts Festival of New American Short Plays, is a splendid director. What could have been static is nuanced and lively. Gestures are few and spot on. A brief dance is beautifully realized.

Molly Groome and Jake Robinson

The Plot by Claire Zajdel
Directed by James Rees
With Molly Groome and Jake Robinson

Frankie (Molly Groome) a Brooks-Brothers-clad corporate lawyer, and her brother, Tyler  (Jake Robinson), an untucked young man with ADD, freelancing who knows what, meet in a cemetery in accordance with their (live) mother’s wishes. The siblings have a needling/judgmental relationship.

Mom telephones to instruct her ‘kids’ to check out a plot she’s purchased for herself. Frankie and Tyler find a gravestone without dates. Frankie’s disturbed with the subject. “I kind of thought we’d be doing this for you, preferably 30 years from now…” the tightly wound professional says to her mother, while Tyler glibly responds, “yes, it’s something, but I would’ve gone san serif…” They’re there, it seems, to choose neighboring plots.

The two talk and snipe about their futures – especially vis a vis Frankie’s current boyfriend and any possibility of “the other side.” A détente is reached. There’s not enough to hold us here.

Molly Groom presents a one note, teeth-clenched performance. Jake Robinson is more successful manifesting a character who’s credible enough to be both genial and irritating.

Director James Reese does little more than what’s necessary.

Deandre Sevon and Lindsey Broad

Ibis by Eric Lane
Directed by Terry Berliner
With Lindsey Broad, Deandre Sevon, Harold Surratt

The two vastly different attitudes of this play make its storytelling unsuccessful, though much of the writing is good. Lane can’t seem to decide whether he’s penning the burgeoning relationship of a quirky couple or that of a potentially reunited parent and son. And yes, these could combine were they not so stylistically opposed and the tale so full of holes.

Tyrone (Deandre Sevon) has hired a private detective, sight unseen, ostensibly based on the investigator’s listed name which is Sam Spade (Dashiell Hammett’s iconic character).  Wouldn’t you think the fact that he’s looking for the father that abandoned him at age seven rather than his cat would warn him off the nom de whatever?

Harold Surratt and Deandre Sevon

Sam (Lindsey Broad) turns out to be an attractive, desultory young woman who denies knowing the source of her name. The dick and client unprofessionally parry. Movies keep coming up. She’s an interesting character with a backstory described by a Red Riding Hood metaphor. He’s got an original coping device that uses numbers. These characters deserve another scenario.

There’s a parentheses during this initial meeting when she steps forward bridging the fourth wall to share case facts. (This really doesn’t work.) Apparently Sam was able to find her quarry due to publicity surrounding the fact that he just won the lottery.

In between undeveloped meetings with Sam, Tyrone phones (dialing the number without looking it up?) and goes to see his unwilling father, Victor (Harold Surratt). It’s easy to understand his parent’s suspicion. We never learn why Victor left or what makes him so adamant about not letting a new family know about Tyrone, however. Previous divorce is not mentioned. Victor is less armored than apparent. A poetic memory creates a relationship bridge, but its appearance is theatrically abrupt and actually tenuous.

Acting is fine, with Harold Surratt adding needed gravitas.

Terry Berliner’s direction suffers from the play’s shifts. One wishes her better meat next time.

Joshua Langman’s projection design (throughout) which could have relied on cliché images, does not, instead offering evocative shadows, gently falling leaves, unexpectedly subtle clouds and a progressing sunset.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening:  Joanna Christie and Keilun Durrel Jones

Summer Shorts- Festival of New American Plays – July 20- September 1, 2018
59E59 Theaters 

About Alix Cohen (701 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight 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.