In its 10th year at 59E59 Theaters, the Summer Shorts Festival continues to showcase a wide variety of new, often experimental work.
The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo
Directed by Victor Slezak
This obscure title does nothing to represent a play whose meatier part is written with nimble, black humor. Burke (Dana Watkins) is a Sam Spade-like private dick. Deadpan delivery is riddled with double entendre. When newly widowed socialite Delilah Twain (Sinem Meltem Dogan- who plays all the women) asks Burke to find her younger sister, Delia, who “started sneaking into USO Clubs and went khaki wacky,” he succumbs to her well-packaged charms. “This dame was trouble but she needed me.” He falls for the broad.
Dana Watkins, James Rees, Sinem Meltem Dogan
Suddenly we’re in a college lecture on Femme Fatales and “the devouring vagina dentata” (Latin for toothed vagina), replete with slides of fine art. Burke has shed his trench coat and fedora to become tweedy Professor Marlowe aka Rob (Dana Watkins), the kind of selfish, obtuse, 40s/50s film character whose subject –film? sociology? lets everything and everyone fall to the wayside. Cue wife Sylvie who’s given up on him and the appearance of buddy, sweet put-upon Barry (James Rees who plays all the other male characters.)
Zip! It’s back to film noir. Detective Callahan has discovered the corpse of a naked woman with neither head nor fingers (i.e. I.D.) Tucked into her “snatch” was Burke’s business card. (Imagine the joke here.) Seems this dame was too well kept to be a hooker. The dick hasn’t seen his doll in days. Worried, he goes to Delilah’s home only to be met by the equally seductive Delia- her twin.
Dana Watkins, Sinem Meltem Dogan
The two stories proceed on parallel trajectories with Burke trying to unravel a series of murders lead by My Sin perfume and Rob’s life falling apart due to women’s issues. Though the professor’s plight is credible – except for a marriage counselor who might be from Duck Soup (the Marx Brothers film) – it’s given short shrift. Without better balance, the point loses impact. Though framing is familiar, playwright Richard Alfredo pens Burke’s tale with flair and shows every sign he could flesh out Rob’s. The piece is entertaining though its ending feels obscure and/or unfinished.
Dana Watkins shifts skillfully back and forth from doomed P.I. to hapless professor. The actor manifests Burke’s dry, monotone expression with finesse and embodies Rob rather like a Danny Kaye character without the physical quirks.
The mercurial James Rees ably personifies a range of roles from everyman Barry to Delilah and Delia’s orchid obsessed father, Fletcher Westlake. (The treatise on an ominous two-headed orchid is top notch writing.)
Sinem Meltem Dogan could go further with her femme fatales.
Direction by Alexander Dinelaris is adroit.
Projection Design by Daniel Muller works wonderfully to set evocative scenes for this piece.
Black Flag by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Logan Vaughn
Ruy Iskander, Suzette Azariah Gunn, Francesca Carpanini
Before Sydney (Francesca Carpanini), a white girl, and Deja (Suzette Azariah Gunn), a black girl, became freshmen roommates, they had Facebooked, warming to one another with anticipation. Sydney came from an upper middle class home in Georgia, Deja has “worked her ass off” to get there from Detroit. The girls unpack with friendly banter until Sydney pulls out a Confederate Flag which she hangs over her bed. The gift from her “mama” is, she says densely, a memento of Southern pride. Appalled, Deja decides not to make a fuss for fear of becoming an angry caricature in her new environment.
In the course of this interesting new take on insidious bigotry, we watch what happens as time passes. The inclusion of Deja’s date, Harry (Ruy Iskandar), an Asian American, allows playwright Idris Goodwin to indirectly expose more of Sydney’s ingrained attitudes. Made aware, she has a decision to make.
Like the preceding effort, this piece lacks balance. A bit more from Sydney might both enrich and help clarify. What is written is well written, however.
Of the three players, Suzette Azariah Gunn stands out for focus, gravity, and be-here-now presence. She knows her character.
Director Logan Vaughn handles temper and drunkenness as well as natural dialogue.
Queen by Alexander Dinelaris
Inspired by ‘The Woman Who Came at Six O’Clock’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Directed by Victor Slezak
Saverio Tuzzolo, Casandera M.J. Lollar
Working class Joe (Saverio Tuzzolo) runs (owns?) a small, neighborhood restaurant for which he also cooks. Every day around the same time, Queen (Casandera M.J. Lollar) comes in exhausted from a night of hooking and the sweet, deferential man makes her a meal on the house. Besotted, he’ll take any scrap of warmth or attention she deigns to bestow, expecting nothing more.
Today Queen looks particularly washed out, snapping at and teasing him like a mean cat. Last night she lost it and got herself into a serious jam. Just how much does Joe love her, she demands. How far would this otherwise scrupulously honest, tender- hearted man go to protect the object of his dreams?
The character of Joe is written better than that of Queen. Playwright Alexander Dinelaris is smart to paint him as a romantic without rose colored glasses. He’s also sufficiently adept to unexpectedly make us dislike the heroine despite her desperation. (Or perhaps that’s the way she’s played.)
Saverio Tuzzolo is splendid; sympathetic without being less than manly, realistic yet courtly. We see affection, hurt, hope, resignation and indecision. Close your eyes and hear Danny Aiello.
Casandera M.J. Lollar creates a genuine floozie. The performance is alas without needed nuance. Where are flickers of hope, anger, and fear?
The play also briefly features Chris McFarland as a cop named Mike.
Director Victor Slezak might take more time with his leading lady, especially as Tuzzolo is so good. The show is well paced and visually effective.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Dana Watkins
Throughline Artists presents
Summer Shorts? Festival of New American Short Plays
The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo; Directed by Alexander Dinelaris
Black Flag by Idris Goodwin ; Directed by Logan Vaughn
Queen by Alexander Dinelaris;Directed by Victor Slezak
59 East 59th Street
Through September 3, 2016