Summer Shorts 10 Series A
The Helpers by Cusi Cram
After the Wedding by Neil LaBute
This is How it Ends by A Rey Pamatmat
Throughline Artists at 59E59, 59 East 59th
July 22, 2016 — September 3, 2016 [Series A opened July 31]
Two evenings of three one-act plays are currently running as the tenth annual Throughline Artists Summer Shorts. I have attended these events since 2011, in a tradition that rounds out the summer and takes into the new fall theatrical season. There are always two different evenings (Series A and Series B), sometimes with an intermission and sometimes an intermission-less experience as Series A is this year. Two two-handers begin the evening the evening, with a spectacular multi-scene, myth-meets-human “end of time” extravaganza to round out the marvelous program.
Cusi Cram‘s gives an actor’s exercise delightful shape in The Helpers. A man and a women meet up on a park bench, with a shared history that is rolled out deliciously slowly over 30 minutes or so. Deep backstory, surprises, assumptions we have the space to make and discard, and resolution. Quite a lot to achieve in one act.
We first meet Jane (Maggie Burke), who could be a decently dressed bag lady. Certainly she is frazzled about something when she enters and talks to herself or an imaginary friend while she is alone on stage. Within a minute or so, Nate (David Deblinger) enters with a smiling fluster, a bit late for their preset meeting, carrying with him carefully selected rare tea in carry-out cups on a tray. Nate has thought out the meeting carefully with a special tea Jane once preferred (he’s thoughtful we think — what doe he have up his sleeve?), but she and we don’t know what the meeting has been convened. We feel they knew each other well once, and suspect a power differential, but can’t quite assign the values.
A chance reference to sessions or therapy in the past alerts us to a possible backstory: is one of these characters a therapist and the other a client? Or are both therapists and one went to the other as part of training? Both characters are articulate, both recall past associations, both are damaged by life experiences about which we learn as the plot unfurls. The answers to our questions come slowly, articulately, with aching resonant humanity. No spoilers; this ride is lovely.
Neil LaBute can create edgy (and sometimes quite off-putting) male and female characters. We end up disliking all the characters in many of his casts, and I often find it hard to endure his plots that involve the end results of character bad behavior, denial, and retribution. His After the Wedding, a great and nuanced surprise, brings us into a well-crafted and delicately-balanced world of spouses recalling a pivotal wedding night event, several years after it occurred. This is LaBute exercising terror in balance; destruction in equipoise.
Totally in direct address (to us as the audience, as investigators or family members or someone else, we aren’t told), Woman (Elizabeth Masucci) and Man (Frank Harts) provide simultaneous versions of their life together and eventually events that occurred immediately after their marriage ceremony several years before in Montauk at the end of Long Island.
Though the dialogue is choreographed so that it feels as thought the spouses are in the same room telling a familiar and jointly experienced story together, sometimes interrupting sometimes repeating or rephrasing, the two monologues can be seen as speeches delivered in separate rooms. Lighting separates them, they remain seated throughout, to deliver a harrowing shared memory of an accident survived that they hand to us, implicitly asking each audience member: what would you do?
The three shows of the packed, compact evening, utilize the efficient gauze-covered pallet-crafted set by Rebecca Lord-Surratt in varying ways befitting the scale of their stories. The settings are lit variously by Greg MacPherson, to great effect — from behind with an evening (or early morning) glow in The Helpers, and with the effect of passing car lights (reality or memory we don’t know) in After the Wedding.
Supernatural flashes of projected worlds (designed by Daniel Mueller) utilize all the designers’ skills in This is How it Ends, a story that begins with a human roommates Jake (Chinaza Uche) and Annie who-is-hiding-her-identity (Kerry Warren) and explodes into funny and harrowing interactions between supernatural beings Death (Nadine Malouf), Pestilence (Sathya Sridharan), Famine (Rosa Gilmore), and War (Patrick Cummings).
Playwright A. Rey Pamatmat, who excels at nuanced family stories, here crafts a world with the earnestness and importance and truth of good solid graphic novels and comics. His brilliant teammate is adept at moving in this aesthetic — Ed Sylvanus Iskandar who who has incorporated mythic creatures in large cast experiential durational plays at The Flea and elsewhere, such as These Seven Sicknesses (Sean Graney‘s gloss on Greek mythology) in 2012 and The Mysteries (a gloss on the medieval York Mystery Cycle) in 2014. Here, Pamatmat contemplates a single simple question: if you knew it was the last day of the world, how would you spend it?
The playwrights, directors, designers, and performers of Summer Shorts Series A address past harms, understanding, and forgiveness on professional, deeply personal, and mythic scales. All in three bite-sized powerful one-act packages.
© Martha Wade Steketee (August 5, 2016)
Playwrights | Cusi Cram, Neil LaBute, A. Rey Pamatmat
Directors | Jessi D. Hill, Maria Mileaf, Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Set Design | Rebecca Lord-Surratt
Lighting Design | Greg MacPherson
Sound Design | Nick Moore
Costume Design | Amy Sutton
Projection Design | Daniel Mueller