Israel Horovitz One-Acts
nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
July 7, 2012
Curated from acclaimed playwright Israel Horovitz's vast body of work, Israel Horovitz One-Acts is a slow meditation on the swift passions of youth stumbling into adulthood. This series of three one-acts also represents another inauguration; this is the first production of new theatre troupe Ethikos Productions, founded just this April. Guided by former Resident Director of the ever-thoughtful Flea Theater, Mia Walker, Ethikos performs an eclectic combination of Horovitz's short plays, including one he wrote at age 17 and one he wrote 17 days after production began. These are bold choices and it shows in the overall performance; Israel Horovitz One-Acts is uneven but audacious and establishes Ethikos as a company to watch for.
The true piece-de-resistance of the show is the third and final vignette, Beirut Rocks. Nothing that comes before foretells the searing power of this play about four American college students stuck in a hotel room during the 2006 Israeli bombings of Beirut. Julie Asriyan and Hunter Thore collide as a Palestinian refugee and a tough Jewish kid from the Bronx confronting each other with all the brutal force inherent in the age-long Middle Eastern conflict. Jonathan Cottle's lighting and Tasha Guevara's sound are especially effective here—you can feel the theater floor vibrate beneath your feet as each bomb bursts in the background—but they're nothing compared to the emotional blows the characters deal each other. In the play's stunning denouement, Asriyan delivers a powerhouse monologue that grabs you by the heart and refuses to let go. It is one of those defining moments actors, audiences and theater reviewers alike live for in independent theater.
The other two pieces represent a creative gap of over half a century for the playwright. The most recently written short play, The Bump, finds two strangers in a U.S. passport office in 2012 forging a deep and unexpected romantic connection. The only hiccup is, they are waiting for passports to go on their respective honeymoons as they are marrying other people. The dialogue is thoughtful but somewhat improbable, featuring the sort of hasty confidences that only exist on screen and stage, but Asriyan and Thore play the parts with an understated dignity that float the piece into the realm of believability. The sweet chemistry between the actors is especially commendable considering the blind hatred the two so successfully evince for each other in the last play.
The weakest of the three, It's Called the Sugar Plum, suffers to a heightened degree from the unearned passions of the first vignette partly due to the writer's youth when it was conceived but also to the less skillful interpretations by Brian Rice and Jenna Ciralli. It's 1969 and Rice plays an introspective Harvard student wracked with guilt over fatally running over another student by accident and Ciralli is the recently deceased's fiancée who comes to confront him—and who's clearly enjoying her newfound role as "the grieving widow." Surreally, the two move from hurling accusations to falling in love. There is some dark and sharp humor here and Rice plays his part tolerably but Ciralli can't seem to find a way to mediate her admittedly exaggerated character beyond caricature. It must be noted the true star of the piece is Jason Sherwood's college dorm set; a perfect representation of a struggling student's life with records piled high and drying shirts hanging in the background like witnesses to the strange drama unfolding onstage.
I would encourage you to see this show, especially for the chance to witness Asriyan excellent performance. Most of all, there is the pleasure of being present for the inaugural efforts of a company that will no doubt deliver even better things to come.