EST Marathon of One-Act Plays 2015: Series A—Theater review by Jenna Scherer
Buying a ticket to a night of short plays is like bidding on a mystery box at an auction: You could wind up with junk or treasure. Either way, it's an exercise reserved for optimists only. I'm happy to report that Series A of Ensemble Studio Theatre's 35th Marathon of One-Act Plays yields far more gems than crap. EST has curated a compelling, varied blend of brief works—many penned by female playwrights, a refreshing change from last year's dude-centric Marathon.
For the most part, the night's five plays are small-scale and personal, making them feel right at home in the modest performance space. Chiara Atik's self-contained 52nd to Bowery to Cobble Hill, in Brooklyn takes place entirely inside the confines of a downtown-bound taxicab. It's a brief, bantering glimpse into the lives of two frenemies, and it knows just when to hop in and when to bail. Amy Fox's elegiac Silver Men makes elegant use of veteran character-actor David Margulies, playing a wry grandfather who struggles to connect with his grandson in the wake of a death in the family.
The tension is effectively ratcheted up in the two plays rounding out the evening. Will Snider crafts a taut standoff between a white American NGO worker and a pair of Kenyan policemen in The Big Man, one that leaves the audience feeling as jumpy as the characters. Mariah MacCarthy's monologue Until She Claws Her Way Out employs little more than expressionistic sound design and the performance chops of Naomi Kakuk to shade in the gray areas of an abusive relationship that is more than what it seems.
Series A's only real misstep is Anna Ziegler and Matt Schatz's I Battled Lenny Ross, a mini-musical about the real-life child genius who won a pair of TV quiz shows in the 1950s. Framed around a talk-show interview, Lenny Ross's samey melodies and listless script don't do much to sell us on the hero worship of its central character. Still, as short-play fests go, four out of five ain't bad at all.—Jenna Scherer
Ensemble Studio Theatre (Off-Off Broadway). By various writers and directors. With ensemble casts. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission. Through June 27.