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Summer Shorts – Festival of New American Short Plays 2015 – Series A

Three new and fascinating one acts on the theme of relationships and the manipulative women who dominate them. 

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J.J. Kandel and Clea Alsip in a scene from Neil LaBute’s “10K” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg) 

J.J. Kandel and Clea Alsip in a scene from Neil LaBute’s “10K” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Summer Shorts – Festival of New American Short Plays has returned to 59E59 Theaters for its 9th annual outing offering six world premieres by famous playwrights, as well as some who ought to be more well-known, along with different casts and directors for each. The three plays in Series A are a fascinating grouping of new one acts in which women attempt to manipulate their companions for various ends. Neil LaBute, Vickie Ramirez and Matthew Lopez take very different stories and handle them in distinctive ways. All of these new plays can use a bit of pruning, but they are all works that will get under your skin and stay with you.

LaBute’s “10 K” is much mellower than he usually is but the dialogue still crackles with undercurrents. A man and a woman meet on a wooden path early one morning as both are there to jog the six mile (or 10 kilometer) track in a suburban park. They decide to keep each other company. They first talk of the weather and their young children. Then they talk of their spouses: her husband is never home due to his work, and his wife has a list of things she hates including nature. Talking of how he did in school and what he never got to study, he brings up the topic of sex education. Suddenly the air is electric. She broaches what they are both thinking by saying, “We managed to not talk about that subject for about 15 minutes or so… man and a woman together. SEX.” Eventually she gets around to her fantasies which she claims she has not acted upon.

The play requires Clea Alsip and J.J. Kandel as the unnamed woman and man to jog in place for the 30 minutes of the play. Remarkably, not only do they not get breathless, they are able to keep up their conversation for the length of the play. LaBute’s direction is well paced and the actors keep up a steady rhythm which they break twice when they take two pauses from their run. The play seems a bit long for the content and either a tighter form or an expansion to a full-length play is in order.

Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in a scene from Vickie Ramirez’s “Glenburn 12 WP” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg) 

Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in a scene from Vickie Ramirez’s “Glenburn 12 WP” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Vickie Ramirez’s “Glenburn 12 WP” is a very unusual take on the state of race relations in America today. Under Kel Haney’s direction the play brings together two unlikely strangers who meet in a bar near Grand Central Station. Troy, a 26-year-old African American hipster, enters the commuter hangout on Vanderbilt Avenue after leaving yet another demonstration against police brutality. The place is empty and he awaits the arrival of the bartender in order to get a beer.  Roberta, a woman in her 30’s, comes in and takes a seat at the end of the bar which Troy takes as a signal. She too wants a drink after a long day at work. He assumes that she is a privileged white woman, she thinks he is a street punk. In fact, as they fence with words, it is revealed that she is Native American, and he is a Native New Yorker from the Lower East Side, now a graduate student studying advanced science.

Although she eggs him on, he refuses to go behind the bar and get a beer. She has no such qualms as she claims she knows Kieran, the bartender, and used to work here when she first came to New York. Ultimately, she pours from the good stuff, the Glenburn 12 WP whiskey. But where is Kieran? And what happened to Roberta’s best friend Krystal who she says has been found dead earlier today? The play cleverly explores expectations and ingrained racial prejudice which both Roberta and Troy have to work through in order to get to know each other. He remarks wisely, “Isn’t it funny that the more politically correct we get, the more society seems to get vicious and violent?”

The play’s subtlety and seemingly meandering style culminates in a rather melodramatic ending, but up till then it has a great deal to say about the contemporary relationship between men and women and the races, as well as the false assumptions we make about people before we know them. Tanis Parenteau is very self-assured as Roberta while W. Tre Davis beautifully conveys the nervousness of someone who does not feel comfortable in a social situation. Director Haney makes the conversation seem totally spontaneous.

Meg Gibson and Kellie Overbey in a scene from Matthew Lopez’s “The Sentinels” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg) 

Meg Gibson and Kellie Overbey in a scene from Matthew Lopez’s “The Sentinels” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The most powerful play of the evening is Matthew Lopez’s “The Sentinels,” a story of three women who meet every year on the same day to commemorate an event that changed their lives. Beautifully directed by Stephen Brackett, the play only slowly gives up its secrets. Beginning in 2011 and working backwards to 2000, “The Sentinels” turns out to be the reunion of three widows of the World Trade Center catastrophe who all lost their husbands in the same company. Every year after the memorial ceremony, they repair to the same coffee shop. We discover how each has dealt with her grief and how the events have affected each one differently. Some years one of the women is missing. Both Christa and Kelly have moved away. Kelly has remarried. Christa is bringing up her two daughters alone. Alice is still rattling around in the large house in the country. The play ends with the year before 9/11 as the women meet at Windows on the World for a company dinner but we never do meet the husbands who seem to have been the women’s whole lives.

Meg Gibson’s Alice (whose husband Charlie was the CEO and co-founder) is like the den mother. Elegant, refined, articulate, she has kept the three together and works ceaselessly for the Rescue Workers’ Relief Bill and other related causes. The other two women have been given nicknames by the waitress: Whiskey Dragon and Blueberry Princess. Kellie Overbey’s Christa who sloshes down her whiskeys as fast as they are delivered is still bitter, even though she moved to the suburbs to give her daughters a different setting after Brooklyn Heights. It still bothers her that Peter never helped out with the children when he was alive. Michelle Beck’s Kelly is the most retiring of the three, newly married, when her husband Steve joined the firm only one year before 9/11, and it is she who ultimately moves the farthest away. Zuzanna Szadkowski is amusing as the waitress who has watched over these widows, and recognizes them year after year.

The unit set by Rebecca Lord-Surratt creates a different ambiance for each play, along with the back wall with its individual panels lit in different colors for each by lighting designer Greg MacPherson. The costumes by Dede Ayite are contemporary chic and perfect for these characters. Nick Moore is responsible for the sound design and the music before each play. Summer Shorts – Series A gets better as it goes along but all three plays are intriguing in their own way and cleverly don’t immediately give up their secrets.

Summer Shorts 2015: Festival of New American Short Plays: Series A (in repertory with Series B through August 28, 2015)

Throughline Artists

59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan

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

Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (637 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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