“Tapas aren’t snacks exactly,” insists a character in Cusi Cram’s The Helpers. “But they’re not a meal either,” replies another. That can feel true, too, of short plays, like the three in Series A of this year’s Summer Shorts festival. Cram’s 20-minute piece is the least substantial: an anodyne park-bench reunion scene between a retired therapist (Maggie Burke) and a concerned former patient (David Deblinger). In Neil LaBute’s equally brief but more substantial After the Wedding, Frank Harts and Elizabeth Masucci play a couple with an ugly secret in a work that asks a familiar LaBute question: How bad should we feel about how bad we are? Tautly written, well acted and directed with cool assurance by Maria Mileaf, it delivers a quick and dirty jab.
The collection concludes on a wild note with A. Rey Pamatmat’s pre-Apocalyptic dark comedy This Is How It Ends. Inspired by the oeuvre of queer-cult-film auteur Gregg Araki—even the title is a deep Araki cut—the play is a tongue-in-cheek portrait of the Antichrist and her Four Horsemen: The A.C. (Kerry Warren) wears a zebra Snuggie, War (Patrick Cummings) and Pestilence (Sathya Sridharan) are secretly screwing, Famine (Rosa Gilmore) is starved for affection, and all of them but Death (Nadine Malouf) seem kind of checked out of their jobs. (Chinaza Uche rounds out the cast as the Antichrist's sweet-natured roommate.) Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, who enjoys unwieldy projects, the show is a hot-messy mix of amorphous theology, outré humor and redemptive gay sex. It’s at once too big and too small to satisfy, but the flavors are certainly bold.
59E59 Theaters (Off-Off Broadway). By Cusi Cram, Neil LaBute and A. Rey Pamatmat. With ensemble casts. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission. Through Sept 3. Click here for full venue and ticket information.