Two Class Acts: Ajax and Squash
The Flea Theater 41 White Two Class Acts: Ajax and Squash | a Curtainup Review
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A CurtainUp Review
Two Class Acts: Ajax and Squash

It's like what Socrates talks about in Plato's Symposium. Or what you said about that statue of Apollo. The beauty of the human form engages us all. .— Gerald Casky, quote from A. R. Gurney's Squash
2. Dan Amboyer, & Rodney Richardson in Squash (photo: Joan Marcus)
The Flea Theatre and its resident acting company The Bats are presenting two one-acts, Ajax and Squash. Both are world premieres by A. R. Gurney.

Ajax is set in a seminar room at a fictive State University. Meg (Olivia Jampol), a professor and ex-actress is teaching a classical drama class and soon finds that she has a fledgling playwright Adam (Chris Tabet) among her students. Adam writes an adaptation of Sophocles' war epic Ajax and persuades Meg to become involved in its development and campus stagings. Meg does, and takes a deep dive into an extra-curricular affair with the author.

While the boy-meets-girl conceit is hardly original, Gurney's treatment of it is, though it does require you to suspend your disbelief about the typical professor-student relationship. Go along with his quirky premise, and you'll find it an exhilarating romantic romp through the Greek classics.

Gurney spices his as always witty dialogue with references to the Attican playwrights and some latter day titans like Voltaire. College politics get generously tossed in, and of course the dangers of a professor dating a student come into sharp focus. Being a Gurney play through and through Ajax is a bracing mix of WASPish society and two young cognoscenti who love not wisely, but too well.

There's some fine energetic acting by Olivia Jampol and Chris Tabet. And, as directed by Stafford Arima, Ajax nicely straddles the ancient Greek and modern American world.

The second play, Squash, doesn't require familiarity with the title sport. Anyway, what it'deals with is not so much squash as fluidity.

Like Ajax, it's a college setting, in this case a university in the Boston area in the mid-70s. The scenario involves Dan Proctor (Dan Amboyer), a thirty-something classics professor, Becky (Nicole Lowran, his wife and the mother of his two children, and his openly-gay student Gerald Casky (Rodney Richardson). The title, is in fact a metaphor amplifying much of what goes on. There's passion, aggression, give and take, rules — and let's not forget the traditions and old school connections that go along with this athletic game.

If the play utilizes the particulars of squash to make its points, its heart is in the existing, and evolving, relationships of the three characters. As the lights rise, you see a muscle-bound Dan Proctor undressing in the gym locker room, with Gerald, the student, complimenting the professor on his prowess in the game. When Dan expresses his surprise that Gerald is not sharing a meal with his fellow students, Gerald explains that he came to give Dan his assigned paper on Plato in advance of its due date. Dan accepts it but the rather pushy young man lingers, and then confesses that he really came to see the professor's body. He attempts to elevate this from mere voyeurism to the loftier realm of art by quoting from Plato: It's like what Socrates talks about in Plato's Symposium. Or what you said about that statue of Apollo. The beauty of the human form engages us all. But Dan will have none of this, tells Gerald to see a "shrink" and heads.

The rest of the play alternates between Dan's conventional relationship with his pretty suburban wife Becky and (off-stage) children and Gerald. Whether he will respond to Gerald's persisten suggestion to be more open-minded about his sexuality, or remain faithful to his family life style. These questions play out with considerable emotional tension and humor in Gurney's tightly-constructed work.
Also directed by Arima, and sharply acted by Dan Amboyer, Nicole Lowrance, and Rodney Richardson, Squash subtly mirrors the essential arguments about love in Plato's Symposium (think eros, agape, and an amalgamation of both).

And don't worry if you aren't a classics buff and have no acquaintance with the ancient Greek guys who populate the Symposium. Gurney leans on philosophy and antique philosophers but really scores here by investigating human sexuality through the dual lens of hetero and homo-sexual relationships. And though he supplies no easy answers to what's morally right and wrong, the play can certainly expand your consciousness on sexuality, love, and sports.

Incidentally, this Gurney double-bill is the Flea's last production at their White Street home before they relocate into new digs, just South of their present Tribeca location. Since their founding in 1996, they have hung their hat on creating a "joyful hell in a small space." So why not follow these hell-raisers to their new home, where they will be presenting—what else? . . .another Gurney play in the New Year.

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Two Class Acts: Ajax and Squash by A. R. Gurney
Directed by Stafford Arima
Ajax rotating cast: Olivia Jambol & Rachel Lin (Meg), Ben Lorenz & Chris Tabet (Adam).
Squash Cast: Dan Amboyer (Dan Proctor), Nicole Lowrance (Becky), and Rodney Richardson (Gerald Casky)
Sets: Jason Sherwood
Lighting: Jake Degroot
Costumes: Sky Switzer
Sound: Miles Polaski
Stage Manager: Kaila Hill
The Flea Theater at 41 White Street. Tickets: $20 for each play; festival From 10/10/16; opening 10/23/16; closing 11/14/16.
Note: Ajax and Squash are performed simultaneously on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in The Flea's upstairs and downstairs theater spaces.
Running time of Ajax: approximately 1 hour with no intermission.
Running time of Squash: approximately 1 hour with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performances of 10/24/16.

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