Marathon of One-Act Plays synopsis
The Ensemble Studio Theatre presents its 34th annual buffet of one-acts, presented in three programs. John Patrick Shanley and Joshua Conkel are among the authors in Series A, Series B includes shorts by Robert Askins and Bekah Brunstetter, and Series C features new pieces by Murray Schisgal and Jon Kern.
Marathon of One-Act Plays Theater review
A lot of otherwise deft playwrights seem to view a tiny canvas as an occasion to paint with broad strokes. The characters that populate many a one-act play are cardboard cutouts, given barely enough life to stand on their own for the space of 20 minutes.
Take Poison, the play that opens Series A of the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 34th annual Marathon. It’s the work of acclaimed Doubt scribe John Patrick Shanley—and it’s really dumb. Crazy-eyed blond seeks revenge on ex-boyfriend, obtains mystical poison from gypsy fortune-teller! Everyone acts like a cartoon! Dan O’Brien’s Kandahar to Canada is equally thin; it’s a portentous piece about East-West tensions that bristles with implied meaning but says nothing. Eric Dufault’s Something Fine is a little over-the-top but gets props for its creative premise: Two of three characters are dashboard ornaments.
The second half of the evening is significantly stronger. Daniel Reitz’s You Belong to Me is a subtle, quiet piece with a simple setup—a chance reunion between two people whose lives have gone in very different directions; it’s a luminous slice of theater that is exactly as long as it should be. The evening closes with Joshua Conkel’s Curmudgeons in Love, a loudly funny, surprisingly sweet tale of twilight-years romance that feels like a full-length work in the making.
Eleven more plays remain in this year’s series (only four of 16 penned by women, but that’s a rant for another day). Here’s hoping Series B and C show the curators’ tastes leaning away from easy mediocrity and into works that use their short length to pack in the good stuff. Brevity is, after all, the soul of wit.—Theater review by Jenna Scherer
Marathon of One-Act Plays: Series B. Ensemble Studio Theatre (see the Off-Off List). By various writers and directors. With ensemble casts. 2hrs 5mins. One intermission.
Marathon of One-Act Plays: Series B theater review
An Ensemble Studio Theatre short-play marathon is like one of those sequential drawings of man’s evolution. We see the playwright as playful ape (throwing gimmicks down from its tree), then in his dignified, upright middle phase (fashioning microplays to convey a concise, human truth) and finally in his exhausted latter-day form (too groomed, too mindful of his celebrity cast). As always at an EST Marathon, you go for the central range—happy to watch the rest, but not unhappy to forget them.
In the first category, we get Ryan Dowler’s high-concept but low-eloquence Something Like Loneliness, in which neighbors keep treasured noises safely in labeled Tupperware. Far more confident in his trickiness, Robert Askins offers Love Song of an Albanian Sous Chef, a nasty-hearted fable about a cook who woos with talking food. Leslie Ayvazian’s irritating The Favor—a husband agrees to kiss his dying mother-in-law—represents the final type, sleek and slight and totally unnecessary, despite a fun, pop-eyed performance by Grant Shaud. And in that “just right” middle phase? Bekah Brunstetter’s Daddy Took My Debt Away turns neatly from a comedy about loan repayment into sudden tragedy; Cori Thomas’s Waking Up juxtaposes the breast cancer diagnoses of a wealthy New Yorker and a village-dwelling Nigerian woman. Both are intelligently tailored to their tiny running times and the claustrophobic space.
But best of all, Sharr White’s A Sunrise in Times Square (a kind of post-9/11 Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune) actually struggles out of these confines, taking only 15 minutes to give shy Madeline (Julie Fitzpatrick) and brash Marky (Joseph Lyle Taylor) a whole play’s worth of silly, sad and hopeful moments.—Theater review by Helen Shaw
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