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A CurtainUp Review
EST Marathon 2007— Series A
By Elyse Sommer
That's the good news. Only one entry, Neil LaBute's Things We Said Today, can legitimately lay claim to being a short play rather than a fragment. Perhaps because Mr. Carden dedicated this edition of the Marathon Series to its late founder, the overall mood is dark and dour. Because the fragmentary offerings seem to prefer obtuseness over clarity, one can't help wishing that what's on offer focused more a celebration of life than on death and dying.
If the Grim Reaper is the spirit overarching Series A, the cell phone is its dominating prop. It plays a key role in three of the five pieces.
In Billy Aronson's The News, the visitors at a dying woman's bedside are repeatedly distracted by their ringing gadgets from taking in the awful news that her illness is beyond surgical rescue. Geneva Carr beautifully captures the fear, shock and anger of the doomed woman. It's easy to understand how the husband's arrival with balloons to decorate what he hopes will be her recovery room can send them spinning out of control. Unfortunately the balloon scene somehow ends up feeling forced.
Aronson's black deathbed comedy is followed by My Dog Heart, an excrutiatingly pretentious and drawn out tale, also about a woman with an incurable illness —this one transmitted by a man met at a dog run and involving her being faced with death or life with a dog heart. Enough said. Not even the acting or staging is very good in this shaggy dog heart story.
Nobody's dying in Julia Cho's The First Tree in Antartica but it too is a story of dealing with a major loss. Cho is a fine playwright whose wonderful Durango (reivew) had an all too limited run at the Public Theater last season. Unfortunately, in this piece she seemed more bent on being poetic than dramatic and the audience is kept too busy trying to figure out the lead character Sylvie's (Michi Barall) connection to the other characters, to really get involved with Sylvie's story.
Wendy MacLeod's The Probabilities was full of interesting weather-related information. Bruce MacVittie, the weatherman-narrator, is such a good actor that he almost (but, alas, not quite) makes this less an essay for a high school assignment than a monologue with the legs to be a solo play.
Undoubtedly, Things We Said Today is the Series A box office draw, since the prolific LaBute has the highest profile, with full-scale productions at New York's major off-Broadway venues (the latest, In a Dark Dark House, is opening this week). As already mentioned, it's also the least fragmentary of the one-act quintet. That's not to say it's LaBute at his best and most original, returning as it does to previous variations on Greek tragedy. This one leads up to its Greek connection with —yep, you guessed right—a cell phone that incriminates an adulterous husband. Oh, yes, the foreboding is emphasized by the betrayed wife's (a terrific performance by Dana Delany) decidedly Greek-style maternity dress. As usual with LaBute, there's a gasp-out-loud ending.
For all its flaws, it's good to have Kurt Dempster's One-Act Marathon with us even if he isn't. I'm sure, once the mourning period which this series seems to reflect is over, the Marthon will again make room for more diversification and brightness—maybe even as soon as Series B.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide