Sunday, August 5, 2018

SUMMER SHORTS 2018 SERIES B Features SPARRING PARTNER by Neil LaBute

R-L: Molly Groome and Jake Robinson in THE PLOT, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2018 SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Summer Shorts: A Festival of New American Short Plays, produced by Thoroughline Artists and hosted annually at 59E59 Theaters, consists of six one-act plays performed in repertory in two parts.  This year, the first part, Series A, consists of The Living Room by Robert O’Hara; Kenny’s Tavern by Abby Rosebrock; and Grounded by Chris Bohjalian.  The second, Series B is comprised of The Plot by Claire Zajdel, Ibis by Eric Lane, and Sparring Partner by Neil LaBute.

As we indicated in our last post, we were rather disappointed by the plays in Series A.  We have just seen the plays in Series B, however, and we found them to be far more entertaining.

In The Plot, a creative and artfully contrived take on the intra-familial dynamics attendant on their parents’ divorce, two adult siblings are forced to confront their mother’s attempt to control their lives even after she is gone - and their budding awareness of their own mortality.  Frankie (Molly Groome) is a 26 year-old no-nonsense associate at a law firm; her 28 year-old brother, Tyler (Jake Robinson), is a freer spirit. At their mother’s behest, they meet in a cemetery to view the final resting place she has arranged for herself – only to discover that she has arranged for theirs as well.

L-R: Lindsey Broad and Deandre Sevon in IBIS, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2018 SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Ibis is far and away the most convoluted and intricate of the three works – perhaps even a bit too much so for a one-act play.  Victor (Harold Surratt) abandoned his family twenty years ago when his son, Tyrone (Deandre Savon), was only seven years old.   Over the years, there were a slew of rumors about Victor – that he had opened a jazz club in Paris, that he was electrocuted in a freak accident, that he hanged himself out of remorse.  Now in his late 20’s and with his mother just having died of cancer, Tyrone determines to discover the truth about his father.

To that end, he retains a female private detective, the aptly-named albeit pseudonymous “Sam Spade” (Lindsey Broad) – who he meets at The Blue Parrot but who, rather unexpectedly, alleges no awareness of who Humphrey Bogart or Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet were nor what The Maltese Falcon nor Double Indemnity referred to – in order to solve the mystery and, if possible, track down his father.  Sam succeeds and Tyrone eventually does meet with his father, only to question Victor more about Victor’s own childhood and Victor’s own absent father than his own.

Tyrone, as it turns out, seeks answers to the world’s mysteries and the meaning of life in numbers, in alphanumeric codes, and in the quantification of the unquantifiable.  And, surprisingly, there may have been more to his apparent foolishness than one might have expected.  As for Sam, she seems to have been struggling with her own childhood demons.

One of the play’s main themes is the cyclical repetition of history as Victor reprised his own father’s effective abandonment of him in his own abandonment of Tyrone.  A second theme is Tyrone’s contrived mathematical exposition of coincidences.  And a third relates to Sam’s own mysterious background, about which we are left largely in the dark.  That’s a lot to deal with and the playwright’s surfeit of material might well have been utilized even more effectively in three different plays, rather than having been crammed into just one.

L-R: Joanna Christie and Keilyn Durrel Jones in SPARRING PARTNER, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2018 SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Sparring Partner is quintessential Neil LaBute, a sharply written and insightful two-hander exposing some of the more tragicomic aspects of our human existence.  A woman (Joanna Christie) and a man (Keilyn Durrel Jones), her boss, meet frequently for lunch in the park.  He is married, she is divorced, and they both are movie aficionados, using the lunchtime opportunity to play Hollywood Names. Theirs has been a long time flirtation, but only of the mind.  Or almost only so.  There have been the occasional touches or hugs or even dances but nothing that might even remotely be considered sexually inappropriate.  And yet there is no doubt that their feelings for one another run deep, that he considers his marriage to be a failure, and that she’d hop into bed with him in a moment if he really were available.  But is it commitment to his marriage or just a lack of courage that prevents him from taking the next step?  And will she be willing to go on this way with him forever?

I found Sparring Partner to be the best of the three plays, not only because of LaBute’s writing but equally importantly because of Joanna Christie’s and Keilyn Durrel Jones’s sparkling performances.  They were both absolutely terrific.

If you’re planning on seeing only one series in this year’s production of Summer Shorts: A Festival of New American Short Plays, I recommend that you make it Series B.

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