Every two years, Ensemble Studio Theatre presents a buffet of one-acts, divided into three programs. In this 36th edition, Series A (May 12–June 5) includes playlets by France-Luce Benson, Maggie Bofill, David Zellnik, Emily Chadwick Weiss and Cary Gitter; Series B (May 28–June 26) features works by Lloyd Suh, Julia Specht, Leah Nanako Winkler, Christina Gorman and Christopher Shinn; and Series C (June 10–30) includes pieces by Zakiyyah Alexander, Edith Freni, Amy Fox, Donald Marcus and Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder.
Series C: Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Stylistic brevity—a certain dense, elliptical minimalism—appears to be the soul of an effective one-act play, at least as evidenced by the five pieces in the third and final section of Ensemble Studio Theatre’s biannual festival. Connect too many dots and it just seems as though you’re halfway to an underwhelming full-length treatment.
Unfortunately, that is the case with Zakiyyah Alexander’s wooden The Good Muslim, the longest (by far) of Series C’s playlets, in which a Muslim American college student (the intense Lily Balsen) disregards her own cultural and religious identity until a classmate stirs her ire while clumsily interviewing her for a project. Edith Freni’s Female Beginner has a political point to make, but it’s mired in melodrama; Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s Santa Doesn’t Come to the Holiday Inn, in which a divorced couple tries to sustain the illusion of a happy family Christmas, verges on mawkish.
By contrast, Donald Marcus’s Intensive Care serves as a model of emotionally loaded concision. Marooned in a hospital waiting room, two older men develop a rapid, improbable rapport: an aristocratic Princeton alum (Eric Conger) and a former wiseguy (Zach Grenier, exhibiting greater depth than he was permitted in The Good Wife). And the evening’s capper, Amy Fox’s Good Results Are Difficult When Indifference Predominates—the quote is lifted from a 1949 Singer sewing machine manual—provides a rousing, hilarious end. Who’s to say that our repressed foremothers might not have applauded pussy power?
Ensemble Studio Theatre (Off Broadway). By various writers. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission. Through June 30.
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