Marathon of One-Act Plays 2010
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
May 24, 2010
It is the season for Ensemble Studio Theatre's annual Marathon of One-Act Plays, and the five selections in Series A are edgy enough to set you thinking. The plays feature a miserable guardian and his teenage charge, an old couple with a tenuous hold on normalcy, a sex-obsessed ladies' man and a pastor's wife, three gay men in a shifting power struggle, and five parents of children gone off to war. The plot lines themselves offer a variety of perspectives on what constitutes a relationship. And, the playwrights plumb these bonds for dramatic effect.
First up is Ben Rosenthal's Safe. Wally, a teenager, has kissed a girl, setting off a series of catastrophic events, not the least of which is rousing his irritable stepfather, Kearn, from bed. The play slowly reveals the disasters: the girl's paralysis, the death of Wally's mother, Kearn's affairs, but most of all, Kearn's resentment of Wally. Gio Perez plays Wally with goofy innocence, which makes Danny Mastrogiorgio's Kearn appear as despicably evil as possible. Mastrogiorgio's posture and pace are those of a caged animal ready to leap. Although on occasion he swallows his lines, he delivers the stepdad from hell. Director Carolyn Cantor keeps the play moving forward, but she might have allowed Mastrogiorgio to explore a wider range of emotions.
Wild Terrain, by Adam Kraar, follows an elderly couple, whose long-term marriage is reduced to a few lines of nagging shorthand. The play finds Henry, a retired professor, and Marion, his wife, at an outdoor sculpture garden in the country. Marcia Jean Kurtz admirably depicts the pains of growing old. She pulls away from Henry's touch, because of aching arthritis and shows signs that her memory is starting to go. Henry, artfully played by Jack Davidson, is dogmatic and insistent about the direction they are walking, about the art they are looking at... about everything. He is the responsible husband, with more on his plate than he can handle. So, it is with a breath of fresh air (for him and us) that they run into Cherie, a favorite former student. Davidson's demeanor sheds ten years as he joyfully embraces an upbeat, cheerful Cherie, played with the epitome of youth by Catherine Curtin. It is an important moment. You can see the jealously rise in Kurtz's character as she stands way back. The moment defines the attraction that may have first drawn Marion and Henry together, and it hints at the tenderness that may still exist, buried beneath their knee-jerk responses to one another. Richmond Hoxie directs with a very good eye.
Robert Askins's Matthew and the Pastor's Wife brings a little absurdity to sin and redemption. An unctuous womanizer named Matthew, played with oily aptitude by Scott Sowers, takes Bible lessons from Dorothy, the pastor's wife, to try and mend his ways. Neither is totally on the up and up, causing gruesome lessons to be learned. Geneva Carr's Bible-thumping southern belle delivers an earnest plea to the wayward Matthew as she simultaneously seduces him in an isolated spot in a park. Matthew learns his lesson, if not one woman too late. John Giampietro directs nicely.
Turnabout, by Daniel Reitz, was my favorite. It contains several dramatic moments where subtle shifts in power transfer from one character to another. In the play, Josh and Dennis meet after a nine-year hiatus. Josh broke off their 15-year relationship for a younger man, and now he has a favor to ask. Dennis, now wealthy and hooked up with the biggest contributor to the Republican Party, is willing to help, but there's a price—Josh must wait tables at the fundraiser they are throwing. Once at the party, it is clear that Josh must endure certain humiliations. He strikes out in the only way he can—at another waiter, Cheyenne.
John-Martin Green is terrific as Dennis. He is confident and savors each moment, garnering power as he unfolds the painful past with understatement and nuance. Lou Liberatore gives Josh a set of nerves that seemingly prepares the audience for the price he has to pay but the price remains a delightful surprise. Liberatore shows the power-seeking side of Josh when he meets Cheyenne, played superbly by Haskell King. All three characters show dimension, range, and nuance. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel understands the importance of timing.
In the last play, Where the Children Are by Amy Fox, we see the effects of war on the parents whose children have gone off to serve. One mother sends care packages, a veteran father sends a lucky penny with his son on his tour of duty, another father establishes a relationship with his daughter's boyfriend of two weeks, and a mother takes charge of her daughter's children as she suffers her husband's 24-hour TV news addiction. When, and if, their children return, they need a whole new set of coping skills. The cast is very good. They are: Barbara Andres, Denny Bess, Bill Cwikowski, Freddie Lehne, and Melanie Nicholls-King. Abigail Zealey Bess does a fine job of directing.