L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry News Contacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Theatre in Review

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

Theatre in Review: Summer Shorts 2015 Series B (59E59)

Justin Bernegger, Merritt Janson. Photo: Carol Rosegg

As usual, they're doing two editions of Summer Shorts at 59E59; too bad they only had enough good material for one. Series B features three plays, each one marked by a distinctly unpromising premise. The fact that two of them are by name playwrights leaves one with the suspicion that somebody has been cleaning out their desk drawers and foisting their first drafts on an unsuspecting public.

First up is Unstuck, a would-be comic sketch about Pete, who is depressed -- we know this because he spends the play on the couch in his underwear -- and who is importuned by a series of women, most of whom manage to make his malaise all about them. First up is his sister, Jackie, who performs a lead-footed tap routine, then asks for his guidance in matters of the dance. When he demurs -- he knows nothing about tap -- she fires off a monologue about the hundred-and-one humiliations of tap class, then announces that she is trying to gift him with inspiration. Next comes Sara, who arrives bearing cupcakes. She is studying to be a therapist, so she bares the details of her life, sings an off-key version of "Drink of Water" by the rock band Ambrosia, bringing it home with a silent meditation session. To Deirdre, his sensible partner, Pete confesses that he is "frozen in time" and fears being "swept away, swept into life, swept into all the things that happen to people when they get where they're going." Deirdre makes short work of such apprehensions, sealing the deal with a kiss. Whatever playwright Lucy Thurber is after here, it is undone by a series of cutesy conceits and generic characters.

Built, by Robert O'Hara, is a slice of soft-core pornography starring a frightened middle-aged woman and a sleek, sullen young hustler. What looks like a paid sex encounter quickly takes on added dimensions when it is revealed that this pair had a torrid affair a decade earlier, when she was a high school teacher and he was a 15-year-old student. She's just out of jail and it looks like a steamy evening is in the offing; the accusations they hurl at each other seem only to have an aphrodisiac effect. At least this brief piece has some underlying tension (exactly who is the aggressor is quite a question) but the details are borderline ridiculous (the young man admits to doing half the faculty in a sex ring) and it ends with a silly, mechanical twist. Under O'Hara's admittedly taut direction, Merritt Janson works up a fair amount of tension and Justin Bernegger is surprisingly effective, even when dressed in only a jockstrap and bearing a knapsack. (Janson's character has very specific fantasies.)

Love Letters to a Dictator, by Stella Fawn Ragsdale (who, her bio notes, works on a farm) is about a young writer named Stella Fawn Ragsdale who works on a farm in the Hudson Valley. She strikes up a pen pal relationship with Kim Jong Il. "I know it is unusual for an American to write you," she says. "I think you probably must feel very misunderstood. After all, there are only a handful of people who do what you do in the world. Putin, al-Bashir, Chavez, al-Assad... Perhaps if I wrote, I thought I might steal strength from you and learn a ferocity. Then I wouldn't feel bad about leaving my family all alone."

If the idea of one young woman's correspondence with one of the world's great human rights violators strikes you as the most adorable thing, then this is the play for you. If not, you're in for an interminable series of episodes marked by a grating whimsy. Stella, who apparently is a lesbian, frets that her family doesn't accept her. "Am I a sinner for loving whom I love?" she wonders, never getting more specific. Knowing the Dear Leader's musical tastes, she pretends to be a second cousin to Elvis Presley. Several letters in, her tone changes: "I haven't written because I don't know how to make sense of how you treat your people. The pictures on TV only get worse." Really, who would have thought that of the dictator of North Korea? Sometimes she counsels him: "Maybe your son would want to come home if he weren't afraid of assassination. It's just a thought." The juxtaposition of Stella and her mundane concerns with one of the world's authentic monsters, clearly meant to be touching and quirkily amusing, results in a tasteless exercise in navel-gazing. That it is at all watchable is thanks to Colby Minifie. The actress, who made a strong impression last season in Punk Rock at MCC, finds an authentic sense of wistfulness in Stella's self-involved correspondence -- we never hear the replies -- and one longs to see her in a better play. Logan Vaughn's direction preserves the script's lackadaisical pace.

Series B has the same design team -- Rebecca Lord-Surratt (scenery), Dede Ayite (costumes), Greg MacPherson (lighting), and Nick Moore (sound design/original music) -- all of whom make highly professional contributions. But even at 75 minutes, this is a draggy, dispiriting evening. By the end, I was ready to join Pete on that couch. -- David Barbour

(4 August 2015)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook