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A CurtainUp Review
Marathon 2002: Series B
Ensemble Studio Theatre's 25th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays
"Am Lit or Hibernophilia", "The Prisoner's Song", "Adaptation" and "Salvation"

by Les Gutman

It's the acting that shines in the middle installment of this year's Marathon. Of the four plays presented, a couple stand out but even they won't knock your socks off. But the actors are undaunted: there's not a bad performance among the baker's dozen participating in this series.

Am Lit
T. Bloom
(All photos: Carol Rosegg)
For lack of a better term, I'll call "Am Lit or Hibernophilia" a modified epistolatory mono-drama. Alone onstage, Joe (Tom Bloom), a college professor in the Midwest, will reveal himself to us through letters written and received, emails, phone calls, and diary entries. Gears will shift briefly as he portrays both sides of conversation -- if you can call it that -- with his teen-aged son. (The boy has little patience with his father.) The thrust of the story is that Joe's wife was killed a year ago and he now wants to escape his current life and try to find the one he remembers, too nostalgically for his own good, from twenty-six years ago in Ireland. We all know you can never go back, and the structure is too sketchy, but it's a fulfilling work, splendidly performed by Mr. Bloom who nails Joe's tone and temperament perfectly. It's also directed, gently but persuasively, by Kevin Confoy.

The Prisoner's Song
M. Hugot and M. Moran
Horton Foote's "The Prisoner's Song" takes us back, for the umpteenth time, to Harrison, Texas, where we meet Mae (Mary Catherine Garrison)and John (Tim Guinee), a down on their luck young couple. John was a drunk but is now sober and having a helluva time finding a job. He's also too cocky for his own good. His father-in-law refers him to a rich man who has business interests in the town, Luther Wright (Michael P. Moran). Wright promises to find him a job and repeatedly talks about how much he cares about the couple's welfare, but seems in no hurry to do anything even though the situation is critical. (I felt like yelling out "Why don't you just loan them some fucking money, you old bastard!" just to move the story along.) There is a heavy dose of subplot as well: Wright's daughter died and he's never quite recovered; coincidentally, she went to school with Mae, and Luther and Mae bond when she sings the daughter's favorite song (yes, the one of the title) for him (twice). There is also a landlady, Mrs. Estill (Marceline Hugot), whose main purpose seems to be to point out that everyone is not impressed with all the oil money that has infatuated the little town. Foote doesn't have much of a point to make, but he takes his sweet time making it anyway. The play feels like a treatment for a longer work, since it has far too much going on for a work of this length. All four performances are right on target, accents and all. If only the actors had been given something more fruitful to say.

S. Garrett and Brooke Smith
It's after the intermission that we get the evening's best written play, Adaptation. Played out in an energetic series of scenes under Billy Hopkin's punchy, attentive direction, it deals with Jeff (Dennis Boutsikaris), a director of a soap opera who is sleeping with a famous novelist, Carlin Lee Walker (Brooke Smith). She has Jeff read a play she wrote, and without telling her, he pitches it as a prime time show (and his directorial breakout) to a pair of young, vacuous TV types, Lloyd (Ian Reed Kesler) and Brooke (Fiona Gallagher). A bigwig producer, Quinn Bannister (Spencer Garrett), is brought into the fold, and as one might predict, Jeff gets caught playing both ends against the middle (for good reason, the novelist isn't inclined to make her story public), and ends up very empty handed. It may not have much more substance than the television fare on which it is focused, but at least it doesn't get lost along the way, and the well-observed characters rendered both believable and entertaining.

A. Feldman and K. Walder
"Salvation," which ends the evening, is a choppy play filled with digressions. Fifteen year old Jarod (Rishi Mehta) seems like a good kid at heart but hasn't been a model child. The son of an Indian prostitute, growing up in Vermont, his mother has just gone off to get married to a Mexican man whose idea of discipline for the boy is abusive. Echo (Karla Walder), a friend and putative soul mate of his -- she's 22 -- is staying with him while his mother is away. Jarod is jealous of the attention both women are giving to men (Echo is engaged to a not-so-hot guy herself), and wants Echo to escape with him to Yuma, Arizona. Meanwhile, Echo has a date with Patrick (Alex Feldman), "the scariest guy in town," a ploy to make her fiance pay more attention to her. She's from an ultra-religious family and also spends a lot of time proselytizing. Jarod spends time breaking into neighbor's garages. Both of them are empowered by a gun, the presence of which might be surprising were it not for the signs posted at the theater warning us about its shots. This is another script that hampers the actors, who are quite good, with young Mr. Mehta very much catching our attention.

The final series in this year's Marathon starts June 5; details can be found below.

97 Series C 
98 Series A B C 
99 Series A B 
00 Series A B C 
01 Series A B C
02 Series A

by Dan O'Brien
Directed by Kevin Confoy
with Tom Bloom

by Horton Foote
Directed by Harris Yulin
with Mary Catherine Garrison, Tim Guinee, Marceline Hugot and Michael P. Moran

by Roger Heddon
Directed by Billy Hopkins
with Ian Reed Kesler, Fiona Gallagher, Dennis Boutsikaris, Brooke Smith and Spencer Garrett

by Bill Bozzone
Directed by Keith Reddin
with Katie Walder, Rishi Mehta and Alex Feldman
Set Design: Jennifer Varbalow
Costume Design: Amela Baksic
Lighting Design: Greg MacPherson
Sound Design: Robert Gould
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes including one intermission
Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street, 2d Flr. (10/11 Avs.)
Telephone (212) 247-4982
Opening May 22, 2002 closing June 2, 2002
MON and WED - SAT @7:30, SAT - SUN @3; $30 (Marathon Pass to all 3 series: $75)
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 5/23/02 performance

Details on the Remaining Serie in Marathon 2002

Series C runs 6/5 - 6/16 and features "My Father's Funeral" by Peter Maloney, "Union City, NJ, Where Are You?" by Rogelio Martinez, "Hope Bloats" by Patricia Scanlon and "The Moon Bath Girl" by Graeme Gillis
Metaphors Dictionary Cover
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