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Summer Shorts 2016 – Series A

Opening triple bill for tenth anniversary season of new American one-act plays at 59E59 Theaters proves a disappointment even with Neil LaBute on the program.

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Maggie Burke and David Deblinger in a scene from Cusi Cram’s “The Helpers” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Maggie Burke and David Deblinger in a scene from Cusi Cram’s “The Helpers” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

One of the advantages of one-act play festivals is that even if you don’t like all of the offerings, you are certain to like at least one. Unfortunately, the three that make up Summer Shorts – Series A in its tenth anniversary festival season of new American short plays are all a disappointment. This is particularly surprising considering one of the plays is by the usually reliable Neil LaBute. All of the new works in this evening seem like either pieces of longer plays yet to come or undeveloped ideas that have not been fleshed out. The one thing that links the three is the minimalist setting by Rebecca Lord-Surratt.

The curtain raiser, Cusi Cram’s The Helpers, has interesting premise but never rises above the level of an anecdote. Jane (played by Maggie Burke), a therapist, has a meeting in a small park in the West Village with Nate (David Deblinger), a former patient who had simply stopped attending his sessions some time ago. Both want something from the other, but the punchline doesn’t offer much of a payoff. Directed by Jessi D. Hill, Burke makes Jane both dour and sour, while Deblinger’s Nate is upbeat and cheery. Aside from this contrast, the two remain the same throughout this short play. There is little or no catharsis by the end of this meeting.

Elizabeth Masucci in Neil LaBute’s “After the Wedding” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Elizabeth Masucci in Neil LaBute’s “After the Wedding” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

As might be expected LaBute’s new one act, After the Wedding, contains a shocker. However, when it arrives in Maria Mileaf’s production, it is so matter-of-fact that it has little or no impact.  Elizabeth Masucci and Frank Harts play a married couple of six years. Named simply “Him” and “Her,” they alternate telling (different) versions of their years together without interacting. However, both of them recall an event that occurred on their way to their honeymoon which should have been a game-changer. For these self-absorbed people millennials, it was simply another incident along the way. Sitting in chairs facing the audience, Masucci and Harts are rather charming as the amoral couple but the play seems like a scene from a longer play not yet written.

At 30 minutes, A. Rey Pamatmat’s This How It Ends, commissioned and premiered by the 2011 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, is the most substantial of the offerings. An apocalyptic comedy about the end of the world, Pamatmat’s play seems like a parody for an unproduced movie inspired by Gregg Araki’s Teen Apocalypse Trilogy, and while it is entertaining while it is on, it doesn’t add up to much when it is over. On the other hand, it might just be a generational thing.

Sathya Sridharan, Nadine Malouf and Patrick Cummings in a scene from A. Rey Pamatmat’s “This Is How It Ends” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Sathya Sridharan, Nadine Malouf and Patrick Cummings in a scene from A. Rey Pamatmat’s “This Is How It Ends” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

In the first scene we are introduced to contented roommates Jake (Chinaza Uche) and Annie (Kerry Warren) who met on Craigslist. After they discuss the end of the world, Annie informs Jake that she is the Anti-Christ and that the Apocalypse is only a few hours away. The play then switches to the home shared by Death (Nadine Malouf), Pestilence (Sathya Sridharan), War (Patrick Cummings) and Famine (Rosa Gilmore), the four horsepersons of the Apocalypse.

Like human roommates, each has a gripe: neurotic Pestilence is having his latest  existential crisis, not-so-paranoid Famine is peeved that people are stealing her food, while hunky  slacker dude War has a crush on Pestilence. Death who plays referee appears to be the only grown up among the four. However, even after seven trumpets blast, they go on doing their jobs with the same juvenile behaviors they exhibited previously. The play has a decidedly gay subtext, not surprising in a work inspired by the films of Gregg Araki.

Chinaza Uche and Kerry Warren in a scene from A. Rey Pamatmat’s “This Is How It Ends” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Chinaza Uche and Kerry Warren in a scene from A. Rey Pamatmat’s “This Is How It Ends” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Sridharan, Gilmore and Cummings are amusing as beings with supernatural powers who are still behaving on the level of sophomoric humor. However, when it is all over, “This Is How It Ends” is nothing more than a partial scenario for a B movie. Credit director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar with not only keeping the pace speeding along but also not giving us time to consider the point of it all.

Amy Sutton’s costumes are contemporary chic for the first two plays, but she lets herself go for the parody of Pamatmat’s movie satire where the designs suggest this could be Animal House or some other teen slacker movie. Aside from Lord-Surratt’s bench and chairs for the first two plays, production designer Daniel Mueller is responsible for the look of the third play which basically resembles rear projection movie sets.

While Summer Shorts – Series A does not offer any important contributions to the one-act form, it is to be hoped that Series B proves to be a more rewarding evening.

Summer Shorts 2016 – Series A (performed in repertory with Series B through September 3, 2016)

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

For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.ticketcentral.com

Running time: one hour and 15 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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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