|L-R: Ro Boddie And Jack Mikesell in APPOMATTOX, part of SUMMER SHORTS - SERIES B. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
The Summer Shorts program at 59E59 Theaters on East 50th Street in midtown Manhattan is an annual event consisting of six one-act plays by established and upcoming playwrights, equally divided between two series, A and B, and it is generally well worth seeing. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend a performance of this year’s Series A but we have just returned from the opening performance of Series B and I can assure you that this second half of 2019’s program is as good as it gets.
Series B consists of three plays – Lucky by Sharr White, Providence by Nancy Bleemer, and Appomattox by Neil LaBute – and each is excellent on its own. Taken together, however, they make for a truly memorable production.
The three plays deal with three totally different issues – PTSD, marriage, and reparations for slavery – but they take a very fresh look at those issues and that is what makes this production really worth seeing. This is no rehash of conventional wisdom on those traditional themes. Rather, it is an original, nuanced and challenging look at all of them that will leave you with more to think about than you might have bargained for.
Phil (Blake Delong) is the “lucky” soldier returning home in Lucky – “lucky” because he was neither killed nor physically injured during his service in World War II. But the scars he bears are deep, even if they are not in physical evidence, and his re-integration into peacetime society does not come easy. Both he and his wife, Meredith (Christine Spang) are forced to confront the un-confrontable and do so with the greatest sensitivity.
Providence is a delightful romp in which Michael (Jake Robinson) and his wife, Renee (Blair Lewin) have returned to Michael’s boyhood home to attend the wedding of Michael’s sister to Pauly (Nathan Wallace). But nothing is as simple as might seem at first blush. Neither Michael’s parents nor his aunts and uncles appear to have “good” marriages and several of Michael’s aunts and their offspring aren’t even on speaking terms. And what does that say about the very institution of marriage? When Pauly seeks advice from Michael and Renee regarding his own forthcoming marriage - he doesn’t need any advice about sex, he knows all about that, but he does want to know what married people actually talk about – it forces Michael and Renee to see their own marriage in a new light.
Jake Robinson and Blair Lewin are wonderful as the relatively young marrieds sorting it all out. But it is Nathan Wallace who truly steals the show with a bravura performance as the conflicted groom-to-be.
Lucky and Providence are excellent productions but Neil LaBute’s Appomattox is in a class by itself and is far and away the best play of the lot. Joe (Jack Mikesell), who is white, and Frank (Ro Boddie), who is black, are friends - at least to the extent of lunching together and tossing a football around. Indeed, their racial difference might even seem to serve to bring them closer together since Joe is a typical well-meaning liberal who perceives himself as totally aware of the sensitivities of African-Americans. But is he? Or is he just another self-satisfied liberal confident in his own convictions, whether they be about busing or affirmative action or illegal immigration of reparations – just so long as he’s not expected to sacrifice too much.
Both Jack Mikesell and Ro Boddie are outstanding in their respective roles. And wherever you might fall on the political spectrum, I daresay their performances will cause you to at least re-evaluate your position.