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Marathon 2001: Series C
Ensemble Studio Theatre's 24th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays
"Grief", "Larry's Charm", "Late Night in the Women's Restroom of the Jungle Bar" and "Invitation to a Funeral"
by Les Gutman
It might be called ten failed weddings and two funerals. There are a dozen characters in the four one-acts included in the final series of this year's EST Marathon, and not a one of them is happy. Although the opener and closer (the two with funerals as their theme) are filled with wicked humor, and the one that cranks up perkily right after the intermission has its comic moments, the overall mood is certainly not one of exuberance.
"Grief," by far the best of the lot, begins as the last condolence caller leaves the home of Jean (Delphi Harrington) and her two grown sons, Adam (Neal Huff) and Marc (Christopher Orr). Her husband (their father) has just been buried and, although Adam praises her for holding up so well all day, she is now suffering in what appears to be silent anguish. Looks can be deceiving. She breaks her silence by announcing she wants a brandy -- and ends up downing most of the bottle. Then she hatches her long-awaited plan: jettisoning from her life every reminder of her terrible marriage, including her nothing-to-brag-about sons -- unsurprisingly aghast and incredulous, both of whom are living at home after their own failed marriages. "I am going to stir up all the water and the snakes are going to swim free," she warns, "so watch your ankles." It's vintage Craig Lucas, well-directed and well-acted. (I saw this series on its first night; I would expect there will be even more bounce in it once the actors have a couple more performances under their belts.)
The final play, Julie McKee's "Invitation to a Funeral," brings together two of the many ex-wives, Shirley (Kathleen Doyle) and Joyce (Susan Pellegrino), of the recently deceased man whose naked body lies in a casket at center stage. (The invitation to the funeral lists them all, alphabetically.) Set in a working class London suburb, its main selling point is the comic behavior of the two women, as they reminisce about his good, and bad, points, expressing sorrow, anger and most emotions in between. Both actors render terrific characters: Doyle's Shirley brash and rough, Pellegrino's Joyce far more circumspect but equally on point. There's not a lot of new ground covered here, or much depth, but it's a treat.
The play with the longest title, "Late Night in the Women's Restroom
of the Jungle Bar," starts out with promise, but alas goes on too long, the spark with which it begins smothered by the earnestness with which it ends. The entire play takes place in the women's room of a dive bar on the Upper West Side. Haley (Melinda Page Hamilton) has decided to leave her husband and has tracked down her workmate, Karen (Jen Drahan). Valise in hand, she wants to crash on Karen's couch. But Karen, suffering from low self-esteem, thinks she's hooked her claws in a man she's taking home tonight. Another woman, Bridget (Diana LaMar) enters the scene, and acts as a sort of coach to both women, sending them into the "game" of the bar's meat market to snare men (transforming the frumpy Haley into a striking beauty by means of an outfit Haley happens to have thrown in her bag). For her own part, Bridget seems to have sworn off men. Some of the dialogue is smart, funny and entertaining, and Drahan's performance in particular is quite good, but as the conversation drifts into the excess baggage each of the women carries from past relationships, it becomes increasingly uninteresting. By the time Haley's husband Ben (Kevin Shinick) arrives (yes, in the women's room) -- a throwaway scene we very much could have done without -- it's all a bit too much.
Too much from the outset is "Larry's Charms," involving Inga (Maria Gabriele), her mother-in-law, Lee (Lynn Cohen), and Inga's young co-worker, Cass (Tessa Gyhlin). Cass steps into a hornet's nest when she brings Inga's belongings to her house, since Inga, unbeknownst to Lee, had stormed out of the restaurant. Inga's husband disappeared 1000 days prior, Inga had moved in with Lee and Lee had become dependent on her for companionship and the like. Her deal with Lee was that she would stay for 1000 days and no more, so today is departure day. It turns out Inga left work because her manager (also her husband's friend) told her the secret about her husband (not much of one) that Lee had been keeping from her all this time. The story is uninteresting to the point of tediousness, and needless to say far too long. Performances were pedestrian (hard to avoid as written), although Gyhlin is on target in her characterization of Cass.
As a group, not a very fitting conclusion to this usually fine collection of one-acts.
LINKS TO PRIOR MARATHON REVIEWS
97 Series C
98 Series A B C
99 Series A B
00 Series A B C
01 Series A 01 Series A