Thursday, August 15, 2013

74. Review of SUMMER SHORTS Series B (August 14, 2013)



Once again, 59E59 is offering two series of one-act plays by established playwrights, Series A and Series B, each program containing three new American premieres. I caught up with Series B before getting to see Series A (next week), but if Series B is any indication, the plays don’t seem to be linked by any specific theme, other than the need to connect with other members of the species. What links them more than any theme is a general air of comedic cuteness. There is nary a whiff of danger or true originality.

            Marian Fontana’s FALLING SHORT, directed by Alexander Dinelaris, begins the evening with the increasingly familiar sight of someone sitting at a laptop. This is Lee (Kendra Mylnechuk), a pretty young woman who makes her living as a food writer, and who is trying to meet someone via an Internet dating service. This, too, is a familiar trope. The comments being typed into the computer are expressed through dialogue, first with a performer (Shane Patrick Kearns) who plays multiple prospects by morphing vocally and physically from role to role, and then with a single character, Nate (J.J. Kandel), a struggling actor who is winning enough to land a date at a Williamsburg restaurant with Lee. This pushes us into FIRST DATE territory (the musical that just opened on Broadway and that I’ll be seeing tonight).

Since he’s late in arriving, Lee engages in clever repartee with the sardonic, gay waiter (Mr. Kearns), and when Nate does get there, his presence belies what he said about himself on the dating site (the title gives a clue to the first lie). Soon there is pleasant chit chat about truth and lies, and romance begins to bloom. If you’re waiting for a big surprise, or some dramaturgic breakthrough, forget it. The surprise, in fact, is that there are no surprises. Well performed, it’s sweet, it’s cute, it’s here, it’s gone.

            In CHANGE, by Paul Weitz, directed by Billy Hopkins, we’re in the apartment of Ted (Alex Manette) and Carla (Allison Daugherty), a yuppie couple in their thirties with a couple of “little monsters,” as they lovingly call them, who have a guest over for the evening. The guest is a friend from college and just out of rehab, the skanky but handsome Jordan (Michael D. Dempsey), tattooed and greasy haired in his sleeveless black  Dead Kennedys polo shirt. Jordan goes out to get some weed, which Ted and Carol, now responsible parents, have given up but are unable to resist when the subject arises, and Jordan blurts out before he goes that, while he likes both “cock” and “pussy,” he actually prefers the former. He’s late coming back and when he does, he brings with him not grass but packets of white powder. The trio snorts the stuff, and gets blasted, far more than if it were cocaine, which it isn’t. Now, under the spell of what is actually heroine, they drift into slow motion incapacity, unable to even attend to the offstage needs of their little monsters, and triangular sexual possibilities seem about to open up, with Ted revealing a proclivity we might have expected, and Carla ripe for anything. Just then, Jordan has to leave, and the good parents are left in their drug-induced stupor. It’s very much like what a student playwright, asked to do an assignment for a playwriting class about something he knows, might have come up with. The performances are fine but the play scores just a few points on the cuteness scale, and is superficial and unimportant, even if it's meant to put young middle class strivers under the microscope.  

            In the evening’s closer, PINE CONE MOMENT, written by Alan Zweibel and directed by Fred Berner, the ages of the characters move forward by a few decades, but the computers are out again as Emma (Caroline Lagerfelt) and Harry (Brian Reddy) conduct a texting relationship, as in the first play on the program. Each has lost their spouse several years back and they are having a senior citizen affair over the Internet, although they’ve known each other for years. Standing behind each one and giving advice are their late spouses, Bunny (Camille Saviola) and Brian (James Murtaugh). Brian, even in the afterlife, continues handling his golf club, and Bunny . . . well, Bunny needs to be seen to be believed. She is a gum-chewing fireplug of a woman, short, stout, and fully packed into a tight red dress, bedecked with jewelry, and topped with a blazing bonnet of bright, blonde, bleached hair. She carries herself with broad where a broad should be broad attitude and keeps sitting on Harry’s knee so he can "knead her ass," a request that breeds the obvious pun, not once but several times. To cut to the chase, love blooms among the ruins, there’s a vigorous polka set to "The Lonely Goatherd" from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and you hope neither dancer has a myocardial infarction before the lights go out. Cute enough?  (Oh, talking about cuteness, I should note that the play also includes a bit around Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 hit, "Sukiyaki," a number I'd completely forgotten. Time to check that tune out again!)

            Series B, which I’ll visit next week, has plays by Neil LaBute, Lucas Hnath, and Tina Howe, none of whom brings cuteness to mind.