Monday, August 1, 2016

Tenth Anniversary Season of SUMMER SHORTS at 59E59 Theaters

Elizabeth Masucci and Frank Harts in AFTER THE WEDDING.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Summer Shorts, New York City’s annual festival of new American short plays, is currently in its tenth season at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  This year’s program consists of six plays – three in Series A  and three more in Series B.  We just saw the three in Series A at yesterday’s opening: The Helpers by Cusi Cram, After the Wedding by Neil LaBute, and This Is How It Ends by A. Rey Pamatmat.  (The three in Series B – The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo, Queen by Alexander Dinelaris, and Black Flag by Idris Goodwin - will have their official opening on August 7.

The Helpers is a mildly amusing two hander in which Nate (David Deblinger) and Jane (Maggie Burke), Nate’s one time therapist, find their roles reversed, with Nate attempting to be of assistance to her rather than the other way around.  Both Deblinger and Burke perform with comedic sensibility, but the play itself remains little more than a one joke production.

After the Wedding was, in my opinion, far and away the best play on the program.  It was another two hander, this one featuring Frank Harts and Elizabeth Masucci as an unnamed but happily married couple celebrating their sixth anniversary.  In the course of the play, we learn of the single event on their honeymoon night that left such an indelible imprint on their lives that persist in their rationalizations and denials (both to themselves and to one other) of what actually occurred and what it all meant.  Both Harts and Masucci deliver superb performances.

This Is How It Ends was the most ambitious and complex play on the program – and the most preposterous and pretentious to boot.  Jake (Chinaza Uche) is rushing off to spend the day in sexual abandon, now that his roommate Annie (Kerry Warren) has revealed to him that she is really the Anti-Christ and that, with the assistance of her underlings, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, she is about to destroy the world.  Warren is the cutest Anti-Christ you’re ever going to meet and her four underlings – Death (Nadine Malouf), Pestilence (Satyhya Sridharan), Famine (Rosa Gilmore) and War (Patrick Cummings) are similarly off-putting (each in his or her own way).  (Who would ever have imagined, for instance, that War and Pesilence really were closeted gay lovers, that  Famine got her rocks off by surreptitiously spying on their lovemaking, or that Death really fancied herself as humanity’s champion?)  The play is an off-the-wall, phantasmagorical extravaganza that might have been written by Adam Rapp on steroids but despite the clever conceit and the outstanding performances of the entire cast, it really was not my cup of tea.