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A CurtainUp Review
End of Lines
By Les Gutman
This evening of five short plays is part of the 1st Irish 2008 Festival, a new project to present the work of Irish playwrights at venues across New York City over a period of three weeks. End of Lines has two premises. First, in keeping with the festival, it consists of invited new work from five of Ireland's "leading young playwrights". Second, the challenge of the invitation was that the play be "inspired" by the New York subway.
As with most groupings of short plays, the results are a mixed bag; in this case, in a number of respects. All five plays reveal talent from the chosen playwrights. They also evince some excellent performances. But it is not until the final play of the series that we see what would seem to be the point of this exercise, a marriage of something quintessentially New York with something also evoking a sense of Ireland.
By design, each play's theme is tied to a particular subway line —- identified by its letters or numbers. As executed, each also employs an enigmatic element, sometimes unveiled quickly and at others more slowly. Both can be useful devices in short plays, exploited with great success in some here and less effectively in others.
"The Housekeeper" is set in a run-down brownstone on the Upper East Side (it's the 4-5-6 play) and presents a sort of urban Grey Gardens. Mary (Paula Nance) is found busy at work with a carpet sweeper. When Beth (Jacqueline Knapp), the lady of the house, enters, we soon learn that Mary is not, as first impressions would suggest, the housekeeper, but an intruder who wants to move her family into the house as they are in the process of being evicted from their own. It becomes a play about class entitlement, in which Mary soon ends up with more than she bargained for when Beth's husband (Michael Graves), who has Huntington's disease, enters. The women perform adequately, but it is Graves who gets the chance to capture our attention.
"Evangeline Elsewhere" is a solo play featuring Kimberly Hebert Gregory as the title character. It has far too much enigma for its own good. Evangeline stands somewhere (perhaps a subway platform, based on the sound effects, but it's not clear or necessary) carrying an open file box. Often looking "up," she talks to someone; at other times, just to herself. She also sometimes sings (usually Mary J. Blige). In due course, it becomes clear that she's talking to, and about, Evander, her son who died after a lengthy hospital stay. Ms. Gregory acquits herself terrifically, but both the context and the point of it all remain elusive. For the record, this is said to be inspired by the 2-3 train.
"The Mission" takes place late night on a nearly deserted platform of the D train. Lucia (Brianne Berkson) just missed the train and now starts the long wait for the next one when two boys (Hal Fickett and Chris Henry) who have broken away from their group on a class trip to New York arrive with a mission to find a drum-and-bass club at which to go dancing. A creepy pas de trois ensues, which takes on dimensions of psychological and then physical abuse. It's never clear just what the boys are up to, but it's one hell of a ride, both chilling and funny. The two young men deliver wonderful performances. Ms. Berkson is fine, though it's hard to imagine an actress who could pull off her Bronx Dominican shtick more accurately could not have been found.
"Shaving the Pickle" is also a sinister piece, set (inexplicably) on the A-C-E line in what appears to be a post-Apocalyptic facist New York in which identification papers are needed to go outdoors, only one subway line is running and people are "detained" at Coney Island. There's not much electricity, or food or water, and it's sweltering. Carla (Dori Legg) is in a rundown apartment with plenty of locks on the door when Don (Jerzy Gwiazdowski), who may or may not be her son, arrives. He reports on his efforts to get fake papers. Some time later, there is a great commotion outside, as if someone is being chased by dogs. Sensing someone outside their door, Don opens it and, a moment later, Janice (Molly Ward) materializes. They don't seem to know her but she enters, and stays. Subsequently, Don will get the necessary papers, and a few surprises will ensue. If there is a message in all this, it escaped me, and the whole enterprise is not well served by director Julia Gibson's failure to adequately demarcate the passage of time.
Whether on purpose or by accident, they save the best for last. "The Parting Glass" is about the Quinn brothers, Jimmy (Raymond James Hill), Michael (David Nelson) and Rory (Ryan King). The play takes place at Coney Island (the F train, if you must know), at the home of their recently deceased father, who returned to Ireland to meet his maker. The boys have come together to videotape themselves singing a song (from which the show gets its title) for their father. The song has particularly bittersweet meaning, especially to Jimmy, whose Conor McPherson-style monologues are interspersed through the show. Playwright Ursula Rani Sarma manages to limn quite fully the disparate paths the three boys have followed, to hit a bulls-eye in achieving the End of Lines challenge and to deliver a meaningful and touching short play. All three actors are near perfect.
I liked the idea of End of Lines quite a bit. I also like the idea of exposing New York audiences to emerging Irish writers. If, as I hope, there is a second Irish festival next year, I would be delighted to see another stab at the End of Lines enterprise.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
In the Heights
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide