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Marathon 2005: Series A
Ensemble Studio Theatre's 27th Festival of One-Act Plays
"Madagascar," "The Airport Play, "Mr. Morton Waits for His Bus" and "The Great Pretenders"
by Les Gutman
After two years in dry dock, EST's theatrical rite of spring sets sail again this month. In this first series of the rejuvenated Marathon, the mix is familiar: a healthy smattering of well-known playwrights, directors and actors, and some fresh faces as well.
On the maiden voyage of its renewed enterprise, EST would seem to have found some wind with an offering penned by John Guare, "Madagascar," but it nearly runs aground. Not to be confused with the Dreamworks animated film of the same name that coincidentally opens this week (or, for that matter, the island nation off the coast of Africa), the title of this play refers to the name of a family that reigns supreme in a small Illinois town which shares its name. Greg (Remy Auberjonois) is the wayward youngest scion of the family; Carrie (Amy Love) is his new-to-town wife, eyed with suspicion (and for good reason as it turns out) by the family. Guare meanders through a host of the sort of revelations that are popular on TV newsmagazines like 20/20 or perhaps Dr. Phil, while attempting to say something about the human will to escape. The play is far too long (over fifty minutes) and convoluted for the genre, and ends up doing little beyond testing the patience of its audience. Will Pomerantz' over-caffeinated direction doesn't help matters.
Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros' "Airport Play" is far better, though it has the unenviable task of reawakening the audience after the tedium of the Guare play. Anne (Ann Talman) is reading a self-help book while waiting for a plane. Hari (Edward Hajj), the fellow traveler from hell who won't stop interrupting her solace, reveals that he knows the author of the book all too well, and urges her to stop reading it. The author, it seems, is lacking in self and in need of more help than he could ever hope to give. She resists but then complies, discarding the book under her seat. Talman's performance is quite nice, Hajj's especially so as he goes from irritant to charmer. Direction, by Shirley Kaplan, is sensitive and effective. Here the theme is singular, quickly set up and just as punctually dispatched.
The second half of the evening begins with the funniest play of the series, Warren Leight's "Mr. Morton Waits for His Bus". The bus in question is not the kind that accepts MetroCards; it's the one from the coroner's office that's dispatched to pick up corpses. Mr. Morton (Donald Symington) has died, and a rookie cop (Ean Sheehy) has been assigned to babysit the body. During the long wait, the cop snoops around, learns quite a bit about the deceased and engages in a lively (if one-sided) conversation. When he downs one of the old man's percodans with a few shots of leftover bourbon, this becomes a true two-hander; we learn more about the cop, his father and the father he might have had. Sheehy is effective as the painfully esteemless young man; Symington is brilliant as Morton speaks from "the other side". Andrew McCarthy's direction is both keen and sensitive.
The finalé is the only play in the group that attempts a larger cast, and also the one boasting a star, Amy Irving. In "The Great Pretenders," we are again in an airport, though this time not with strangers. Anna (Ms. Irving) and Bobby (Bruce MacVittie) were divorced a dozen years ago. They are together again because their troubled son, Jackie (Haskell King), who spent most of his life in mental institutions, has killed himself. It's an opportunity for reflection, aided by the shadows of their younger selves (Foss Curtis as young Anna, J.J. as young Bobby), with revelatory interludes from Jackie. Leslie Lyles has written and engaging if not altogether focused piece, in which all of the acting shines.
It's tempting, though not especially sensible, to look for a common thread in these plays. If there is one, it seems to be the search for that which is meaningful, and the choices made which charted a different course. Funny how the same might be demonstrated by the more and less successful paths taken in the playwriting.
LINKS TO PRIOR SEASON'S MARATHON REVIEWS
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 B C
03 Series A
03 Series B
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