theater (reviews)

Review: Summer Shorts 5 Series A

Summer Shorts 5 Series A

Carrie & Francine by Ruby Rae Spiegel
Triple Trouble With Love by Christopher Durang
In This, Our Time by Alexander Dinelaris
The New Testament by Neil LaBute

Throughline Artists at 59E59, 59 East 59th

August 4, 2011 — September 3, 2011 [Series A opens August 10]

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
August 6, 2011

Four one-act plays, one intermission, three experienced theatre professionals and one young woman writer who is about to go off to Yale in the fall.  And while there is something to appreciate in all the short theatre pieces here on display at 59E59, Ruby Rae Spiegel‘s Carrie & Francine sets the bar early and leaves you with a sense of wonder about the possibilities of theatre. Two 13-year-old girls share dieting tips and sexual misinformation and verbal banter, careen between attempts at being worldly-wise and in the process illustrate their total lack of knowledge about things like sex and relationships. This story takes you somewhere and makes you care about these two young girls. Lydia Weintraub as Carrie and Louise Sullivan as Francine are brave and delightful and just the perfect combination of smart and childlike girls on the cusp of emotional adulthood.  Tina Johnson as Mrs. Gold, the mother of another youth at the bar mitzvah taking place during the play’s final scene, provides context and focus and a reminder that these girls are just girls.  The playwright skates among all the realities with nuance and skill.  Director Laura Barnett creates with her young actors many lovely small intimate moments.

  • “I used to think that pedophilia was people who liked feet.” (Francine)
  • “Look, if you’re kissing a guy, he could just stick it in you without you knowing.” (Carrie)

[Full disclosure: I read this play several times before sitting down to review this piece in a theatre on a hot August afternoon.  The press rep provided copies of all four short plays to reviewers prior to the show.  In addition, I read this play among other strong submissions to the 2011 Young Playwrights national competition earlier this year.  On paper I analyzed the strengths of the writing, the power of the world created, the compelling characters Spiegel has created.  She awed me then.  And I am thrilled to see her voice represented among the other playwrights on stage as part of this short play festival.]

Christopher Durang‘s Triple Trouble With Love provides three sequential monologues with whimsy and pathos — two women Annie/Samantha (Aidan Sullivan) and Jackie (Beth Hoyt) and man Gary (Nick Choksi) who may or may not connect the two.  Playwright Durang directs his own work here, in bare light, using different quadrants of the stage for the sequentially presented characters — evoking the memory of Brian Friel‘s Faith Healer.

Alexander Dinelaris has crafted a story of a young girl Jules (Erin Darke) wise beyond her years, bonded to her mom Maggie’s (Maryann Towne) current long-term live-in boyfriend cop Billy (Ted Koch).  In direct address to the audience, Jules repeats a bemused story of an intended inspiration “you are our future” speaker at her high school, meant to leave us the audience analyzing that speech for satire, for irony, for pathos.  “I am the future.  And this is my dream.”  Many bright moments, some script heavy-handedness.  Delightful performances.

Finally, Neil LaBute‘s The New Testament focuses on a restaurant conversation involving a relentlessly and callously self-centered and bigoted writer (Jeff Binder), his producer (Mando Alverado) and an actor (James Chen) whose signed contract to play Jesus in the writer’s play is the bone of contention for the course of the exercise.  The actor is Asian and doesn’t have the look the writer contends “his” Jesus demonstrably must have — essentially blue-eyed Caucasian just like in the prayer cards of the 1950s.  The arguments become about flippant racism, about artistic integrity, about power (a contract is signed but a verbal agreement trumps it in the end) — and a final gotcha summary historical observation by the actor to the writer.  “And you .. you should open up an atlas sometime.  Take a good, long look.  The Middle East?  It’s in Asia. Yeah … Christ was Asian.” I don’t know who this kind of theatre arc plays to best (the Christian heartland perhaps). It must be said that these actors do well by the scripted words. It’s jousting and sometimes landing punches with words, and some of us will wonder in this case what the kerfuffle is about.

An energizing set of new work, and Series B coming up next at 59E59.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 12, 2011)

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