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Summer Shorts 2018 – Festival of New American Short Plays: Series B

World premiere of one act plays by Neil LaBute, Eric Lane and Claire Zajdel on relationships at a tense moment in their development.

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Lindsey Broad and Deandre Savon in a scene from Eric Lane’s “Ibis,” part of Summer Shorts 2018 – Festival of New American Short Plays: Series B (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

The plays in Summer Shorts 2018 – Festival of New American Short Plays have often had a theme running through all the offerings in each evening, however they were concealed or obscured. This year’s Series B is about two-character relationships at a tense moment in their developments, sort of sparring partners as one of the plays calls it. Unfortunately, the plays in this series by Neil LaBute, Claire Zajdel, and Eric Lane all need further work as they are premises rather than finished plays.

The best of the three is Lane’s “Ibis,” a clever parody of Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett detective stories. The mother of 23-year-old Tyrone (Deandre Savon) has died and his father abandoned the family 16 years ago when Ty was seven. He hires a detective who answers to the name of Sam Spade (Lindsey Broad) to find out the story of his father Victor Martin who it is commonly believed to have died. Tyrone meets Sam downtown at The Blue Parrot bar only to discover that Sam is a woman who claims to have never heard of Humphrey Bogart, Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, or Chandler’s Double Indemnity, but she has discovered the whereabouts of Victor (Harold Surratt) who is not dead at all but living in Eastern Pennsylvania. When Tyrone visits his father, new questions arise.

Lane’s dialogue between Tyrone and Sam is diverting and sharp. However, Victor remains an enigma even after Ty’s three visits. The ending of the play leaves more questions unanswered than it resolves. Nor does the title have a complete explanation. Broad steals the show with her keen, quick responses, while Savon has stamina and endurance as the young man who just wants to hear his father’s story. Given both an unsympathetic and mysterious role, Surratt is able to do little with the stern, unyielding father. Greg MacPherson’s blue lighting with film noir overtones creates the perfect mood for this detective story. Rebecca Lord-Surratt’s minimalist setting makes judicious use of two chairs and a table for the bar scenes and a park bench for Ty’s third meeting with his father. Amy Sutton’s costumes are cleverly color-coordinated to the set and lighting. Terry Berliner’s assured direction gets the most mileage out of the script that could be gotten in this form.

Joanna Christie and KeiLyn Durrel Jones in a scene from Neil LaBute’s “Sparring Partner,” part of Summer Shorts 2018- Festival of New American Short Plays: Series B (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Previously Neil LaBute, who has been represented in the majority of the Summer Shorts presentations over the years, has excelled in the one act form. His new play “Sparring Partner” about two co-workers, a man and a woman, who meet on a park bench for lunch, for a game of “Hollywood Names” and a more than mild flirtation goes on too long for its slight plot. We discover that this long-time relationship is played out daily while he and she spar at the game in which they have to guess the names of pairs of actors who have been co-stars and then the second actor becomes the entry for the next round.

However, these meetings have come to mean a great deal more to the single woman and the unhappily married man than they have been willing to admit. When she tells him of an allegory that sounds very much like their own story of two people who like each other a great deal but have never done anything about it, she asks the question of whether it is just a friendship or “an affair of the mind.” He is left to consider whether he is willing to make a move or whether he is too cowardly to do anything about their deepening relationship.

The many rounds of “Hollywood Names” are not very interesting and they become extremely repetitious. The audience guesses long before the woman poses her hypothetical question that they are in fact in love with each other and it is time to make a decision or end their meetings on their lunch hour. As written, the roles give little information about either of the couple so that Joanna Christie and KeiLyn Durrel Jones can’t do much with these parts as the play mainly stays on the same plateau throughout. Lord-Surratt’s rather bland setting and Sutton’s equally non-descript clothes add little to the drama of the play. J.J. Kandel’s direction never serves to turn up the heat enough to create any tension.

Molly Groome and Jake Robinson in a scene from Claire Zajdel’s “The Plot,” part of Summer Shorts 2018 – Festival of New American Short Plays 2018: Series B (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Claire Zajdel’s “The Plot” has an unusual premise but never goes anywhere. Siblings Frankie (Molly Groome) and her slightly older brother Tyler (Jake Robinson) have been asked by their recently divorced mother to meet them in the cemetery. It turns out that she has bought a plot (and a headstone!) and wants them to decide about taking the plots on either side for themselves. However, Frankie and Tyler could not be more different and the occasion becomes one for sparring in a long time relationship that has always been adversarial. Frankie is an established lawyer with a responsible fiancé while Tyler who is two years older is still a freelancer sub-leasing a bed in someone else’s apartment. While both agree that their mother Debra is definitely losing it, they can’t agree on anything else. They argue and bicker and make no progress in their relationship – or their situation with their mother. Many calls and text messages occur to and from Debra which has become an overused technique.

Director James Rees appears to think that this is comedy but nothing that either Molly Groome or Jake Robinson have been given to say is remotely funny. Robinson attempts to make his role as the unconventional rebellious brother rather colorful but Groome seems to have decided that conservative lawyers are dull and mundane. The set for “The Plot” is an attractive slide projection of an autumn scene in a cemetery with three headstones but ultimately becomes tedious as the play and the setting never evolve. Sutton’s costumes differentiate the bohemian brother and the bourgeois sister nicely but are exactly what you would expect without any surprise.

This year’s Summer Shorts 2018 – Festival of New American Short Plays 2018: Series B is a big disappointment since previous festivals have set the bar quite high and all three premises initially have great potential. It is a shame that more was not made of the opportunities.

Summer Shorts 2018 – Festival of New American Short Plays 2018: Series B (in repertory with Series A through September 1, 2018)

59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59 Theaters, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission

 

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (515 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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