Julian (Steven Hauk) is the English Department head of, and popular professor at, a small Ohio College. He’s long, lean and grey haired. Agnes (Elizabeth Rich), something of an earth mother, is the long-distance, assistant editor at a prestigious literary magazine based in New York. Both are ostensibly whip smart. (We only see signs of Agnes’ intellect.) Sally (Amy Bodnar), about 20 years younger, teaches second grade and takes dance. (In fact, dancing in the living room is a deep seated part of all their lives.) A blonde penumbra tops the lithe body of this latter day flower child. The three have been discreetly “married” about 14 years. During the first quarter hour, you won’t have a clue to relationships.
Sally has been a single mother since daughter Reggie (Kerry Warren) was six. The young, free thinking, academically brainy Reg is more or less comfortable with her family. She lives in a college dorm. Her current boyfriend, Dale (Brandon Espinoza), is cliché white trash. He was chosen, much to the surprise of the triumvirate, for sexual prowess and lack of pretension.
Amy Bodnar, Elizabeth Rich, Kerry Warren, Steven Hauck
Not an uninteresting set up. When Julian potentially drags the family into the same scandal that forced their move to the Midwest, Agnes gets a job offer in New York, and Sally alienates Reggie, things come to a head. All four must make decisions.
I’m afraid David Harms initial effort has “first play” written all over it like subway graffiti. It cries out for editing. Scenes drag on. There are at least three successive endings. (The last one leaves a clever gender question unanswered.) Well placed original poetry ranges from spot-on to obscure. Sally’s behavior towards Dale, made even less credible by stage direction, is too out of character to read true. Her past seems stuffed in like an afterthought rather than revealed within the story. Narration is erratic. This is not to say Mr. Harms can’t write, he can, but…
Director Drew Foster manages to depict desire and affection between the three protagonists according to individual proclivity, but renders Julian too passive to be the man later revealed. Actual dancing, which draws them together even when alternately coupled, is given too short shrift to make an impression. (Good choreography.) Sally sometimes narrates facing us, sometimes away, with foggy theatrical intention. Oh, and how does just the right dance music start and stop on cue with no one going near a player?
Brandon Espinoza, Kerry Warren
The casting of Steven Hauk, fine in other productions, is a mistake. Not for a minute do we believe his character is a womanizer. This tips the entire axis of the play.
Elizabeth Rich’s naturalistic performance as Agnes is the best thing on stage, sometimes necessarily acting as ballast. The artist is womanly and subtly sexual with both genders. Intelligence seems organic. We can see her consider before speaking.
Kerry Warren is also quite believable as the strong minded/independent Reggie. It’s not the actress’s fault her playwright has made the character less perceptive than fits, a handicap that makes certain scenes sit less than well.
Set Design by Deb O is immensely creative and visually effective. (Those are manuscript pages you see!) Erik T. Lawson’s Original Music is cacophony. Except for one really ugly, juvenile dress (Sally’s first) Gregory Gale’s Costumes feel appropriate.
Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg
Opening: Steven Hauck, Elizabeth Rich, Amy Bodnar
What We Wanted by David Harms
Directed by Drew Foster
The Clurman Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
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
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
59 East 59th Street
Through September 3, 2016