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WinterWorks 2018: “Look Me in the Eyes”

Marriage, friendships and romances are examined in this spirited program of six short plays.  The strong cast features Marie Wallace of “Dark Shadows.”

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Megan Greener and Daniel Kirby in a scene from Bill Cosgriff’s “The Art of Escape,” part of American Renaissance Theater’s WinterWorks 2018 (Photo credit: Michelle Becker)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]Humorous, often suspenseful and well-observed are the six short plays that comprise WinterWorks 2018: Look Me in the Eyes. They all deal with the complexities and conflicts of intimate relationships.  Marriage, friendships and romances are all examined.

The stage is small, circular and flanked by a few rows of the audience’s seats on two sides.  The minimal furniture includes a round table, chairs and cubes that are all swiftly reconfigured for each play that is simply and effectively staged by its director.

Marc Castle’s Triple Play (directed by Bill Cosgriff) is an acidic take on female friendship.  A young woman introduces her best friend to her new boyfriend at a trendy restaurant with blistering results. Megan Greener, Daniel Kirby and Alexandra Curran all provide aggressive characterizations that fully realize the realistically harsh material.

Ms. Greener with her distinctively chiseled facial features and fierce presence also appears again with the boyishly appealing everyman, Mr. Kirby, in The Art of Escape. Written and directed by Cosgriff, it’s an earthy, funny yet sober depiction of love and commitment. A 25-year-old Goldman Sachs finance guy is about to have sex with his career driven editor girlfriend of two years at her Manhattan apartment. He tells her wants to quit his job and move to California to work as a contractor.  What does she do?

Marie Wallace and James Nugent in Fran Handman’s “A New York Encounter,” part of American Renaissance Theater’s WinterWorks 2018 (Photo credit: Michelle Becker)

“I never met a peanut butter junkie” is one of the many sharp zingers in Fran Handman’s romantic park bench meetup, A New York Encounter (directed by Elowyn Castle) between an older man and woman. It’s in the well-trod, zany territory of Murray Schisgal, Elaine May and Herb Gardner, and it’s well-trod again here.  The red-haired and vivacious Marie Wallace and the quirky James Nugent are priceless.

Two women in their 80’s who’ve been friends since high school are about to climb Mount Everest in Donna Kaz’s Stamina (directed by Kathleen Swan). Long held resentments erupt as they are on the verge of this momentous feat. Catharine Boyd and Judy Frank are simultaneously hilarious and poignant and in their winter coats quite convincingly convey the frigid environment.

With shades of Samuel Beckett, Stuart D’Ver’s absurdist Time with Harold and Hal (directed by Castle) has two older men, one with a newspaper from decades ago and one with computer tablet whimsically ruminate on matters great and small. It doesn’t go very far but James Rutledge and Mr. Nugent do wonders with it by displaying their marvelous befuddlement and comic timing.

Kathleen Swan and James Rutledge in a scene from “Look Me in the Eyes,” part of American Renaissance Theater’s WinterWorks 2018 (Photo credit: Michelle Becker)

Bookending the production are scenes from Margo Hammond’s Look Me in The Eyes (again directed by Castle) that open and close the show. While putting together a table lamp, the wife in a long marriage bickers with her husband and their special and enduring bond is revealed. The sunny Ms. Swan’s warmly comic presence and dramatic depth beautifully bounces off the charming Mr. Rutledge’s delightfully smooth and prickly manner.

There are brief and pleasing interludes as cast members appear solo to recite one of Linda Kampley’s witty poems before the plays begin.

Lighting designer Leah Cohen’s steady brightness illuminates each play to optimum effect and the crisp blackouts aid in fast transitions from one to the next. Ms. Cohen’s compact scenic efforts also achieve the desired rapidity that keeps the production flowing.

Marie Wallace performing the poem “Proclamation” by Linda Kampley, part of American Renaissance Theater’s WinterWorks 2018 (Photo credit: Michelle Becker)

These works were all developed by the intergenerational American Renaissance Theater Company that was founded in 1976, through a weekly workshop that meets for ten months of the year.

Collectively the plays and poems in WinterWorks 2018: Look Me in the Eyes are a quite enjoyable and entertaining experience and a wonderful showcase for the company of talented actors.

WinterWorks 2018: Look Me in the Eyes (through February 4, 2018)

American Renaissance Theater

Directors Studio of the Directors Company

311 West 43rd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, 1-800-838-3006 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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