Sunday, August 6, 2017

51 (2017-2018): Review: SUMMER SHORTS 2017: SERIES B (seen August 3, 2017)

“Games People Play”

Series B, the second installment in 59E59’s annual summer season of short plays proves, overall, to be the weaker of the two one-act programs; on the other hand, in Neil LaBute’s “Break Point,” it contains the best play in either series.

The same neutral unit set used in Series A serves just as well for Series B. Designed by Rebecca Lord-Surratt, and creatively lit by Greg Macpherson, it’s little more than an attractive three-wall background of translucent, wood-trimmed, sliding panels; with selective furnishings, it conjures up a pastor’s office, a living room, and what the playwright calls “a lawn” but, with its two low benches, could be anywhere the audience imagines.

As in Series A, the plays, whose running time totals 90 intermissionless minutes, have only the most tenuous of links. My review for Series A tied the plays together under the rubric, “Death, God, and the Sexes.” Here I’m going with “Games People Play” because in each piece one side is trying to manipulate the other in order to reach a desired goal. In the LaBute piece, the transaction involves an actual game, tennis.
Jennifer Ikeda, Mark Boyett. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Chris Cragin-Day’s two-hander, “A Woman,” opens the bill, with an attractive woman, Kim (Jennifer Ikeda), meeting with Cliff (Mark Boyett), the relatively youthful new pastor of her Presbyterian congregation. Kim, married and a mother, has been summoned because when asked to nominate someone as a church elder she submitted “a woman.”

This leads to a friendly debate in which Cliff explains why it’s impossible under the existing church rules for a woman to hold this position. Kim, a pious Christian who’s made the same request every year for a decade, responds with standard feminist arguments. The pastor scores a point when he says her request might go further if she were to name an actual person; you don’t need a crystal ball to predict the game’s outcome.
Jennifer Ikeda, Mark Boyett. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Cliff and Kim appear to once have had a flirtation, so their banter is casual enough to include off-color language one might not expect to hear in a pastor’s office. Other than that, “A Woman” is mild stuff, the issues are treated superficially, there are a few gentle laughs, the acting—under the direction of Kel Haney—is low-keyed and polite, and you begin hoping for a bigger score in the second play.

That one, “Wedding Bash,” by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds,” takes comic pot shots at the growing popularity of destination weddings. Those, of course, are the ones requiring invitees to pay their own fare to and accommodations at some out of the way location; as suggested here, with tongue deeply in cheek (one hopes), they may even have to cough up six bucks for a burrito from the “burrito truck.”  
Andy Powers, Donovan Mitchell, Rachel Napoleon, Georgia Ximenes Lifsher. Photo: Carol Rosegg. 
Newlyweds Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) and Donna (Rachel Napoleon) think their recent destination wedding in Sedona, CA, was the best ever (“I mean, those rocks!”) and are hungry for raves about it. When friends Alan (Andy Powers) and the very pregnant Edi (Georgia Ximenes Lifsher) pay a post-Sedona visit to Lonny and Donna’s home, they quickly realize they share a completely opposite opinion about the nuptials, from the money it cost them, to the hotel, alcoholic provisions, and so on. What they feel, of course, slips out, with the expected results, and Alan, who’s particularly disturbed by his $1,300 outlay, finds a way to tally a payback victory.
Donovan Mitchell, Rachel Napoleon, Georgia Ximenes Lifsher. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
(Question: There’s a notable bit where Alan brags about how his hair is so thick because of steroid injections. Yet the actor’s hair is very thin. Since Alan is otherwise not particularly obtuse, are we supposed to laugh at what we might perceive as his vanity or is the actor simply [in this regard] miscast?)

Like Series A’s “Playing God,” “Wedding Bash” is precisely the kind of stuff “SNL” revels in, from its clichéd jokes about undesirable wedding gifts to its bashing of the wedding to its detour into farce. J.J. Kandel’s direction squeezes the moderately comedic cast for a few good yocks but this is essentially a throwaway sketch that puts the pressure on the third and final piece to put some numbers on the board.
John Garrett Greer, Keilyn Durrel Jones. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Happily, it does just that in Neil LaBute’s “Break Point,” a piece of classic LaBute cynicism satirizing male competitive ambition in the persons of two tennis champions, one of them among the world’s greatest, the other talented but far less noteworthy or wealthy. LaBute, who also directed, calls them Stan (Keilyn Durrel Jones) and Oliver (John Garrett Greer), but don’t expect Laurel and Hardy.
John Garrett Greer, Keilyn Durrel Jones. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Oliver, a star who’s won 19 majors and has a humongous bank account to show for it, wants Stan, whom he’s known since they were kids at tennis camp and against whom he’s about to compete in the French Opens, to throw the match. Desperate for the “big round number” of 20 wins, and unsure if he can beat Stan, Oliver uses all his offensive (in both senses of the word) wiles to convince Stan to accept a substantial payoff for tanking; Stan puts his crafty game face on to suss out his rival’s weaknesses.

The ethical and psychological issues underlying the sharply authentic-sounding comic dialogue are volleyed with verbal backhand smashes and biting underhand serves, especially as performed with expert timing by Greer and Jones. The former precisely captures Oliver’s nervous desperation, while Jones offers a perfect counterbalance in the subtleties of Stan’s responses.
Keilyn Durrel Jones. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

The press script, by the way, contains a delightfully ironic curtain speech by Stan that’s been cut from the performance, perhaps because it was deemed to be gilding the lily. The play does well enough without it but that speech had its points.

This referee scores 55 for “A Woman”; 55 for “Wedding Bash”; 90 for “Break Point. 


59E59 Theaters/Theater B

59 E. 59 St., NYC

Through September 2