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A CurtainUp Review
EST Marathon 2007— Series A

Maranthon 2007-Series A
Dana Delany & Victor Slezak in Things We Said Today by Neil LaBute (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
For almost thirty years, the Ensemble Studio Theatre's annual one-act play marathon has become a much anticipated tradition —a veritable feast for enthusiasts of the one-act format. Much to the relief of EST's member thespians and its loyal audiences, William Carden has taken over Dempster's mission to nurture new plays and the Marathon Series continues, albeit with three instead of two series of one-acters.

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.
The News
By Billy Aronson
Directed by Jamie Richards
Cast: Diana Ruppe, Geneva Carr, Thomas Lyons, Grant Shaud

My Dog Heart
By Edith Freni
Directed by John Gould Rubin
Cast: Brian Fenkart, Brian Avers, Pepper Binkley

First Tree in Antarctica
By Julia Cho
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Cast: Jessica Jade Andres, Michi Barall, Kate Griffith, John Norman Schneider

The Probabilities
By Wendy MacLeod
Directed by Karen Kohlhaas
Cast: Bruce MacVittie

Things We Said Today
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Andrew McCarthy*
Cast: Dana Delaney and Victor Slezak
Set Design: Ryan Elliot Kravetz
Costume Design: Amela Baksic
Lighting Design: Evan Purcell
Props: Amanda J. Haley
Sound Designer: Ryan Maeker
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission
E.S.T, 549 West 52nd Street
SERIES A: May 31st — June 20th
For the performance schedule as well as lineup for Series B, see the Ensemble Studio Theatre Website:
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on June 3rd
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