In each of the three plays in Summer Shorts 2019: 13th Annual Festival of New American Plays: Series B, one member of a couple wants something from the other but may not get it. Each play is open ended as we don’t really know how their relationships stand when the play is over. While the premises are interesting, all three plays are a bit too long and could use some cutting or rewriting. As always the acting in this long-running festival created by producing artistic director J.J. Kandel is superb despite the plays’ deficiencies.
“Lucky” by Sharr White (The Other Place, The Snow Goose, The True) is set in a hotel room in a small American town in 1949. Phil Wilson left for World War II six years ago and never came home even though other discharged soldiers have been home for two years. He has returned to his home town after seeing a newspaper article that his father has died but has not had the courage to go visit his mother. When the gossips in town tell his abandoned wife Meredith that they have seen him check into the Royale Hotel, she comes to his room to see where she stands and what his intensions are. Where has he been all this time?
The closed-mouth and taciturn Phil says almost nothing. Meredith mentions that she knew he was in the hospital but does not know for what. She reveals that she has moved out of his mother’s house and is renting a room. She brings divorce papers she has not wanted to file – but in the rain storm she has walked through they have gotten wet. Her problem has been that the women in town formerly employed by the munitions factory now have too much time to gossip and have turned their sights on her. And things will get worse now that Phil has been seen in town.
Long before Phil reveals that he has a nervous breakdown, what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we guess what the problem is. He does reveal that since returning home he feels he doesn’t fit in anywhere. Although Blake DeLong and Christine Spang give fine, believable performances, the author hasn’t given them much to work with. At 35 minutes, the play is too long for its content and feels extremely dragged out. Director J.J. Kandel hasn’t helped much by staging the play in a glacially slow fashion. We never do learn what their life was like before Phil left for the army, and what they have to salvage, although it is obvious Meredith still loves her husband.
Nancy Bleemer’s “Providence,” intended to be part of a trilogy, suggests that it will be a very funny comedy. Unfortunately, this never really transpires. The situation certainly has possibilities. Michael and Renee, his wife of three years, have returned to his parents’ home in Rhode Island for the wedding of his sister Gina. Sleeping in his old room, they find the bed a bit small for them. When Renee reveals she thinks she needs a Tampax, Michael is afraid of waking his parents in the next room. However, they are interrupted by Gina’s fiancé Pauly who has pre-wedding jitters. He wants advice from them as marriage experts: what do couples talk about and know do you know when it is right. After they assuage his insecurity, they are left alone to talk about their relationship. An unresolved problem that they have never solved since before their marriage raises its ugly head. They may not be xperts after all.
While the play has several laugh lines and the situations are pregnant with comic possibilities, the production never resolves into the serio-comic work it ought to be. Under Ivey Lowe’s direction, Blair Lewin and Jake Robinson have a light touch as the couple who think all is fine, while Nathan Wallace as the prospective brother-in-law is quite quirky as a young man with the jitters. Rebecca Lord-Surratt’s setting establishes that the bedroom they are staying in has Michael’s school memorabilia.
Neil LaBute’s “Appomattox” is the most substantial of the three plays and deals with a topic new to his work. Two long-time friends, Frank, black, and Joe, white, are having a picnic in the park without their wives where they get to throw around a football. Joe tells Frank about a story he read in the newspaper that the freshmen at Georgetown University have decided to pay an annual reparation to the families of slaves who were sold off by the college centuries before as collateral to keep the school going. He is impressed that the $27.20 will be annually added to their tuition. For Frank, this is nothing but a symbolic gesture. He would like to see the figure sting a little for 400 years of slavery.
However, Joe pushes the issue, only to discover that Frank knows a good deal more about the subject than he does such as which large corporations today got their start on the backs of slaves, and the unspeakable atrocities committed to his ancestors in the South for which there is no restitution. When Joe demands to know what price Frank would think is fair, he does not like what Frank comes up with. Frank suggests that they drop the subject and get on with their friendship but Joe can’t let it drop. Ultimately, we do not know if the two men will continue to be friends in the future.
As Frank, Ro Boddie is even-headed and composed until Joe fails to see his point. Contrastingly, Jack Mikesell as Joe becomes more and more agitated as he fails to get the response he wants from his more knowledgeable friend. Director Duane Boutté expertly keeps the temper rising as the play works its way to its unexpected conclusion. On the negative side, LaBute tells us little or nothing about the two men other than that they like football and that they have been friends for a long time. Lord-Surratt’s unit set which worked so well for the two bedrooms transforms to a tranquil park with the help of Joshua Langman’s slide projection of a very blue sky and lush green trees overlooked the men’s picnic. Costume designer Amy Sutton’s casual clothes for the contemporary plays are perfectly suitable, while the ones for the first play take us back to the late 1940’s.
While all three plays in Summer Shorts – Series B are initially intriguing, they are all ultimately disappointing in ways that could be easily fixed.
Summer Shorts 2019: 13th Festival of New American Plays: Series B (through August 31, 2019 in repertory with Series A)
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-892-7999 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 100 minutes without an intermission