Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summer Shorts 2015 Series A at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Clea Alsip and J.J. Kandel in 10K.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Now in its ninth year, Summer Shorts 2015, the highly acclaimed annual festival of new American short plays, is currently being staged at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  The festival consists of three one-act plays presented in each of two series running in repertory:  the plays in Series A are 10K by Neil Labute, Glenburn 12 WP by Vickie Ramirez, and The Sentinels by Matthew Lopez;  those in Series B are Built by Robert O’Hara, Love Letters to a Dictator by Stella Fawn Ragsdale, and Unstuck by Lucy Thurber.

Unfortunately, I won’t be seeing Series B this year.  But I did see Series A and I’m glad I did.  All three plays in this series are simply terrific and all of the actors’ performances are first rate across the board.

The three plays in Series A are situated in different venues and the characters in the three plays bear little superficial resemblance to one another.  The man (J. J. Kandel) and the woman (Clea Alsip) in 10K are two young married (but not to each other) joggers who meet by chance on a wooded jogging path. The characters in Glenburn 12 WP are Troy Davis (W. Tre Davis), an African-American hipster in his mid 20s, and Roberta Laforme (Tanis Parenteau), a Native American professional woman in her early 30s; they also meet by chance – but in an Irish pub near Grand Central, rather than in a park.  In The Sentinels, Alice (Meg Gibson), Kelly (Michelle Beck), and Christa (Kellie Overbey) are three widows who meet regularly over a period of years in the same coffee shop in the Financial District to commemorate their husbands’ deaths.  But despite these differences, there does appear to be a theme that ties these works together: in all of them, the characters have experienced losses and are forced to deal with them, each in his or her own way.

In 10K, the man and the woman realize that they are suffering from similar losses: both are married and parents but neither enjoys, within his or her own marriage, the personal and sexual pleasures that they once took for granted.  The woman’s husband travels constantly and is seldom home; the man’s wife hates the world.  Nor do their children provide them with the satisfaction that they thought they would.  Now, finding themselves stuck in unsatisfactory marriages, they resort to dreams and imaginative fantasies to provide what is lacking in their reality.  But will that be enough?

L-R: Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in GLENBURN 12 WP.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
In Glenburn 12 WP, Roberta, who is something of a regular at the pub, is mourning the loss of her friend Krystal.  Troy walks in, having tired of participating in a nearby protest movement, and Roberta engages him in conversation.  As it turns out, neither Troy nor Roberta are anything like what the other expected, and before the play ends, they’re bantering back and forth in a manner neither would have imagined possible, given the difference in their backgrounds and the stereotypical images that each had of the other’s ethnic and cultural heritage.  Kieran, the pub’s regular bartender, isn’t there and Roberta goes downstairs to search for him.  By play’s end, we realize how much more there is to Troy than we should have thought; we understand why Roberta is mourning Krystal; we find out what happened to Kieran; and we discover that Roberta deals with loss quite differently than do the joggers in 10K.

L-R: Meg Gibson, Kellie Overbey, and Michelle Beck in THE SENTINELS.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Finally, The Sentinels moves backwards through a series of scenes from 2011 to 2002 as Alice, Kelly and Christa meet annually to commemorate the losses of their husbands.  They all evolve over time and each deals with her loss in her own way: Alice throw herself into socio-political causes; Kelly remarries and is pregnant; Christa is just moving on.  Different strokes for different folks but it works for them.

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