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|B CurtainUp Review
Ensemble Studio Theatre's 23rd Annual Festival of One-Act Plays
Accident, The 17th of June, The Rothko Room and Lives of the Saints
By Les Gutman
Toward the end of a long theater season (in other words, about now), there comes a point when even avid theater-goers start to forget what it is that attracts them to the theater in the first place. It's a time filled with award ceremonies, so it's easy to forget that the theater is supposed to be about rewards.
Good theater must nourish us. The second grouping of one acts in this year's Ensemble Studio Theatre Marathon serves up a fine four course dinner. For an appetizer, Peter Maloney whips up a pained, funny story about his roller-blading "Accident." It's followed by the heaviest course, Edward Allan Baker's compelling "The 17th of June," and then by Stuart Spencer's surprisingly elegant "The Rothko Room." For dessert, David Ives has concocted a memorably delicious treat, "The Lives of Saints."
"Accident" is Maloney's amusing tirade against the indignities he suffered when he decided to bond with his son Griffith by taking up roller-blading. Insult is added to injury when he takes an arm-breaking fall in Central Park and must suffer through the affronts meted out by the health care system. With actors, it seems, everything is dramatic, so this ho-hum event in the lives of emergency room staffs is elevated in Maloney's frame of reference to an Oedipal event. Father is haunted onstage by his now-shadowy son, who handles the propping duties while still wearing his blades. Maloney's conversational tone works perfectly, although the overall effect is more stand-up routine than theater.
"The 17th of June" is Dee's (Fiona Gallagher) birthday, but in 1999 (her 30th) it was anything but routine. She'd moved out on her abusive husband, breaking the co-dependence chain by accepting an offer of shelter from Chet (Joseph Lyle Taylor), the nerd downstairs. Now, her husband is dead, and she's filled with guilt. Lying on the kitchen table on which her husband died, her sisters, Kat (Geneva Carr) and Patrice (Ellen Mareneck), can't console her. Then, some startling revelations shake out. Despite a few rough edges, playwright Baker is able to develop a brief but assiduous examination of these people and events, and director Jamie Richards coaxes from Gallagher and Taylor a pas de deux that is riveting. Gallagher is top-notch but Taylor's unpeeling of Chet's underwhelming façade is nothing short of brilliant. Mareneck is also excellent as the rough-hewn Patrice.
We'll never know precisely what Mark Rothko was thinking when he painted the darkish murals that were commissioned for The Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagrams Building. They suggest "portals." We'll also never fully know the circumstances surrounding their withdrawal and subsequent exhibition. When we look at his paintings for a while, as do Dennis (Dashiell Eaves) and Alice (Christine Farrell) in Stuart Spencer's "The Rothko Room," they start to take on different qualities. As such, they are a wonderfully apt context in which to consider these two subtly and beautifully portrayed people. I'll not say more.
Edna (Nancy Opel) and Flo (Anne O'Sullivan), the two women in "Lives of the Saints,"are in the basement kitchen of a Polish church, preparing a funeral breakfast. They fret about things like where they've put the powdered sugar and nuts, or (my personal favorite) how hard it is to find duck blood nowadays. They perform on an empty stage, with only a band of light outlining the edges of the room. They have no props. In its marvelously funny simplicity, David Ives succeeds not only in entertaining us tremendously, but also in reminding us of the sheer joy to be found in a life bereft of the complex nuances that so often occupy us. Opel and O'Sullivan, two peas in a pod, are costumed to the finest detail, a perfect complement to their brilliant comic renderings that John Rando has choreographed to perfection.
I guarantee you'll have a barrel of fun.
LINKS TO PRIOR MARATHON REVIEWS
97 Series C
98 Series A B C
99 Series A B
00 Series A
Editor's Note: The Lives of the Saints was also reviewed last summer when it was part of a four-part Ives series at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. For a copy of that review go here and an interview with director John Rando go here.