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Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B

Three new one-acts with fascinating premises and no follow-through – like a medicore game of tennis.

Jennifer Ikeda and Mark Boyett in a scene from Chris Cragin-Day’s “A Woman,” part of Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

All three plays in Summer Shorts 2017 – Series B have fascinating premises: someone desperately wants something from someone else in unusual situations. Unfortunately, none of the pieces in this year’s Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B are successful, either going round in circles or not developing much beyond its premise. This is particularly disappointing considering the writers include the usually reliable Neil LaBute, Chris Cragin-Day, an alumna of the Public’s Emerging Writers Group and The O’Neill Center, while Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds’ “Wedding Bash” was a winner at the 2016 Samuel French Short Play Festival.

Cragin-Day’s “A Woman” is set in the new pastor’s office at a Presbyterian church. Kim, a raging Christian feminist, and a friend of Pastor Cliff’s since high school, has been called into his office to explain her nomination of a new elder as simply “A woman.” Unfortunately, they both know that their church does not allow women to be elders, but only deacons (who serve the minister but cannot be ordained.) Cliff is shocked to find that Kim has been writing the same thing for ten years but this is the first time a pastor has ever bothered to request a meeting. However, as Pastor Cliff tells Kim, he fears that he would lose his job if he submitted Kim’s request. The discussion goes round and round over the same item – and then Pastor Cliff tosses the ball in Kim’s lap.

As directed by Kel Haney and acted by Jennifer Ikeda and Mark Boyett, the play remains very low-key and the temperature never goes up though much is at stake. The dialogue asks the actors to repeat themselves over and over without the overly polite confrontation making any headway. If the pace were faster, it might not seem as though they are covering the same ground endlessly. Both Rebecca Lord-Surratt’s office setting and Amy Sutton’s costumes are extremely bland – as is the play. Interesting idea but poor execution.

Donovan Mitchell, Rachel Napoleon and Georgia Ximenes Lifsher in Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds’ “Wedding Bash,” part of Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Kraft and Leeds’ “Wedding Bash” brings together four friends for a dinner party in a Los Angeles home. Lonny and Dana have been recently married and are entertaining their friends Edi and Alan for the first time as a married couple awaiting positive feedback on the big event. They are under the impression that their destination wedding was the greatest ever. As it happens, neither of their friends liked it or the planning that went into it. While the new married couple is in the kitchen getting dinner, Alan suggests to Edi if they are the good friends they think they are, they have to tell Lonny and Dana the truth. Unfortunately, Lonny and Dana are under the delusion about how much everyone liked it and not good at taking criticism.

J.J. Kandel’s direction is upbeat and animated. The trouble is that the play has a one joke plot and nothing more is done to develop it. Donovan Mitchell and Rachel Napoleon are pleasant as Lonny and Dana though they ought to appear more deluded than they do. Neither of them are allowed to fight back by the author or the director when they hear their friends’ complaints so that the play is very one-sided. Andy Powers as Alan has all the best lines, while it is left to Georgia Ximenes Lifsher’s Edi to back him up. What could have been a hilarious farce is only mildly effective. In the hands of an expert comic writer, this situation could have been memorable. The title gives away the whole plot.

John Garrett Greer and KeiLyn Durrel Jones in Neil LaBute’s “Break Point,” Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Neil LaBute’s “Break Point,” the longest and most substantial of the plays is placed last. Oliver and Stan are two tennis players about to face off in the French Open. Knowing each other for 20 years since they were in tennis camp together, this is the first time they will appear opposite each other. Oliver has been a golden boy superstar with many endorsements, commercials and his own clothing line, but he has been off his game in recent years. Stan, on the other hand, has been on a winning streak. Stan is surprised to get a call from Oliver to meet with him on the eve of their semi-finals match. Is this a friendly meeting or a psychological ploy? Competition and legacy raise their ugly heads.

While John Garrett Greer as the self-entitled Oliver and KeiLyn Durrel Jones as the more effacing Stan make a distinct contrast under LaBute’s direction, the play gives away its surprise much too early in the conversation. After that there really is not much to wait for. Eventually the play just becomes more of the same with Oliver continuing to take the lead and Stan following along. As written, there isn’t much Greer can do to make the egotistical Oliver sympathetic, while at times Jones seems to wimp out rather than hold his own. Lord-Surratt’s minimalistic setting does not make clear where this conversation is happening. On the positive side, Sutton’s costumes for the two men strike a very sharp contrast between the two of them. Greg MacPherson’s bright lighting design is perfectly suitable for all three plays.

While the three plays in Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B have been given proficient productions each seems ultimately unsatisfactory. All seem like first drafts rather than completely fulfilling their potential. The three authors could learn a lesson from the three plays in Series A which all hit their marks. Interesting experiments but failures nevertheless.

Summer Shorts 2017: Festival of New American Short Plays – Series B (through September 2, 2017)
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59E59.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (433 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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