Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Jessi D. Hill

Summer Shorts – Festival of New American Short Plays: Series A


In its 10th year at 59E59 Theaters, the Summer Shorts Festival continues to showcase a wide variety of new, often experimental work.

The Helpers by Cusi Cram
Directed by Jessi D. Hill

“Oh, fucking Christ. If you want to do something nice for the person you treated as a shit bag, don’t bring the drink of your choice,” Jane aka Dr. Friedman (Maggie Burke), mutters to herself watching former patient Nate (David Deblinger) approach with what appears to be coffee. Jane drinks tea, in fact, Lady Grey Tea, something Nate should remember after 15 years of therapy with her.

Two years ago, Nate didn’t turn up for a session and disappeared. Jane is still palpably angry and wondering why she agreed to the park meeting. There’s some catch-up small talk, she barbed, he warm and conciliatory. Despite what seems like a series of negative, life changing events, he’s doing fine. Jane, however, has taken to talking to an invisible being-in public. Nate’s seen her doing it. Concerned with the looks given her, he wants to help.

This brief play reveals who she’s talking to and why with Nate volunteering to act as an ear if she’ll keep those conversations private. That an analyst and her patient should act as if they’re intimate friends is unlikely unless affection and trust developed over time after sessions ended. Jane’s comes too quickly to believe. Nate seems to be crossing a line.

Otherwise, dialogue feels natural as delivered by two low key, credible actors who deserve better.

Jessi D. Hill’s Direction is comfortably realistic.

After the Wedding by Neil LaBute
Directed by Maria Mileaf

Elizabeth Masucci as Woman, Frank Harts as Man

A young couple, here named Man (Frank Harts) and Woman (Elizabeth Masucci) sit at opposite ends of the stage in chairs facing us. (Don’t you hate when a playwright is too lazy to give his characters names as if pretentiously delivering some universal truth?) There’s no fourth wall, both address the audience.

Their wedding anniversary of 5 or 6 years- he says 5, she says 6, and the fact that they’re moving, starting a new chapter on the west coast, provokes a look back at life together so far. This is a happy couple, admiring and respectful of one another. They recollect, finishing each other’s sentences with unimportantly slight differences in perception.

At the core of memories is a conceivably preventable tragedy that occurred the night of their honeymoon. Long swept under the rug, it pokes its head out around this time of year. The event, or rather their behavior at the time, is shocking to us, though not, even in retrospect, to them.

This is the most successful of the three slight plays. Dialogue is completely believable, filled with little details. Director Maria Mileaf creates overlapping rhythms essential to flow while showing sufficient glimpses of feeling to keep narrative from becoming a novel exercise.

Elizabeth Mascucci is the more sympathetic actor, taking us in with calm gentility and an openness not mirrored in her partner. Frank Harts does a yeoman-like job but never allows us to feel he’s really sharing rather than saying lines.

This Is How It Ends by Rey Pamatmat
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskander
Commissioned by and premiered at the 2011 Humana Festival of New American Plays

Chinaza Uche as Jake, Kerry Warren as Annie/AntiChrist

I assume this is supposed to be a hip look at the apocalypse as experienced by its personified perpetrators: Annie aka The AntiChrist (Kerry Warren), Death (Nadine Malouf), Pestilence (Sathya Sridharan), Famine (Rosa Gilmore), and War (Patrick Cummings) and the single, sweet gay man, Jake (Chinaza Uche) -representing the best of us?- who rooms with Annie until the End of Days.

In short, Annie rather likes having been alive but is determined to do her duty. Death is all business while interestingly insisting she provides a service. Pestilence, who seems put-upon, is having what he thinks is a secret affair with surfer dude, War. Famine, resigned to being alone at the end, has become a voyeur.

Sathya Sridharan as Pestilence, Nadine Malouf as Death, Patrick Cummings as War

I have not a clue what this piece is trying to say; relax and go with it, we’ll all be one? Were it not for some moderately engaging turns- Patrick Cummings is something of a hoot, Chinaza Uche appears bright and innocent, Nadine Malouf offers ballast, the show would be a loud sleeper.

The production utilizes modest projections by Daniel Mueller and an AntiChrist voicei over which is so resonant, it’s literally unintelligible, as a result of which we miss the entire, thundering justification. Sound Design- Nick Moore. Understated Costumes by Amy Sutton cleverly manage to reflect each character.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Maggie Burke as Jane, David Deblinger as Nate

Throughline Artists presents
Summer Shorts- Festival of New American Short Plays
Series A:
The Helpers by Cisi Cram; Directed by Jessi D. Hill
After the Wedding by Neil LaBute; Directed by Maria Mileaf
This Is How It Ends by Rey Pamatmat; Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskander
59E59 Theatres    
59 East 59th Street
Through September 3, 2016

A Persistent Memory – Man and Beast Haunted by Trauma


Young David Huntington (Drew Ledbetter) is son and unwitting heir to a family fortune with a prestigious charitable foundation. It seems at first that he’s trying to give meaning to a privileged life by ricocheting from Habitat For Humanity in Mississippi to Uganda, where research on HEC (Human Elephant Conflict) is taking place.

The latter, this play’s fascinating, though unsuccessfully integrated parallel, shows that elephants are, in many surprising ways, quite like humans; that they actually do remember, suffer, and mourn (as well as protect/nurture and play) much as we do and that human-perpetrated traumas hold just as fast as ours.

An ex-circus beast, having been sent to a refuge, will not allow anyone close enough to take off his iron ankle cuff for 5 years while he learns to trust. A bull elephant who kills a man returns to the spot daily, stroking the rock against which the man’s head was bashed, wailing. Grisly consequences of ivory trafficking is also noted. A hundred elephants are slaughtered daily.

(A Trunklines pamphlet available just outside the theater which describes the animals’ plight and the The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee represented here is a revelation.)

carly elij

Claire Warden, Richard Prioleau

David’s college friend/mentor Elijah (a palpably earnest Richard Prioleau) lives in Uganda with his lover Carly (Claire Warden), a hedonistic, touring violinist who comes and goes as career dictates, adding spice to the relationship. Oddly, we never learn what Elijah does for a living. Exploring his obvious love (and, later, implied desire) for the young man is curiously eschewed for importance given to Carly’s sexual and drug appetites. (The loose-limbed Warden embodies these with appealing gusto.)

Elijah has provided David introductions to missionary? social worker? Olivia (a completely credible/grounded Victoria Vance) working with literacy and poverty issues in Uganda, knowledgeable about local customs. Do we, however, need to see her at an AA meeting in order to glean that she too carries burdens? (Notwithstanding, it’s skillfully written.)

dav oliv

Drew Ledbetter, Victoria Vance

And Kaesem (the solid Ariel Estrada), a passionate (he cries) wildlife biologist studying elephants in Africa and then the United States. Asked by both Olivia and Kaesem to what end he’s conducting research, David’s at a complete loss. Distracted and in pain, we slowly learn he’s running from memories of the violent deaths of his mother and brother.

teach dav

Ariel Estrada, Drew Ledbetter

David’s home life, i.e. normalcy, is represented by his father’s fiancé, Marie (Lisa Bostnar) who tries to befriend him. Assumed to be a gold-digging usurper, she is, in fact, genuine. Scenes with his soon-to-be stepmother expose the protagonist as spoiled and self indulgent, rather than, not in addition to, being seriously disturbed. One can’t help but wonder whether this is intentional. The terrifically real, sympathetic Bostnar is an utter pleasure to watch, but here, as with Elijah, we are given unnecessary information during a visit to her dead husband’s grave. An otherwise well conceived monologue.

dave marie

Drew Ledbetter, Lisa Bostnar

Playwright Jackob G. Hofmann can clearly write. In this play, however, he seems to have been carried away by his own dialogue. Diverting exposition makes the piece feel jerky, muddling essential plotline, losing the interesting elephant metaphor in the shuffle.

Drew Ledbetter (David) is the weak link in a talented cast. When silent, he appears neither overwrought nor emotionally riveted elsewhere, but rather as if reviewing his grocery list. Outbursts thus are less effective, yet interaction is bland without them.

Director Jessi D. Hill keeps her players moving in a kind of theatrical caucus race, circling between scenes, setting the stage, posing, alighting in the back when not speaking. Accents are varied contributing to authenticity. Except for David, characters listen and respond. Olivia and Carley are portrayed with specific, illuminating physicality.

Parris Bradley’s Scenic Design is a fanciful representation of African materials. Despite not quite understanding what we’re looking at, he creates atmosphere. Crates combined to form furniture also inexplicably work.

Valerie Joyce’s Costumes aptly describe each character, though what Carly is doing with plastic leggings in African heat is puzzling. Lighting Designer Greg Solomon contributes immensely to the piece, utilizing shadow and color. Inappropriate swing music played before curtain couldn’t be more wrong for the production.

Photos by Russ Roland
Opening: The Company

A Persistent Memory by Jackob G. Hoffman
Directed by Jessi D. Hell
The Beckett Theater
410 West 42nd Street
Through June 18, 2016