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A CurtainUp Review
Festivals featuring new playwrights always present an eclectic group of works and The Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 30th Festival of One-Act Plays, Marathon 30, doesn’t look like it will be much different. But if Series A is an indication, there are probably no Obies, Tonys or Pulitzers here.
The five plays in Series A ranged from pedestrian to misguided. Only the first, A Little Soul Searching, a musical by Willie Reale, directed by Evan Cabnet, showed any real promise. The show works on the interesting and amusing premise that once you’re dead you probably won’t want to come back to earth.
Michael Potts plays Randolph, a dead soul who believes the people on earth are "animals" and recalls miserably that on earth he lived through two plagues and an ethnic cleansing, and served as advance man for Napoleon at Waterloo. He sings a lovely anthem to Felicity, the planet he is longing to visit instead of earth.
Randolph’s companion, Prudence (Karen Trott), tries to convince him that earth is not so bad, and anyway, he has to do his duty. Their interaction is quite delightful and their songs light, pleasant and tuneful. A Little Soul Searching could easily be developed into the kind of musical they were writing forty years ago. And come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea.
Amy Herzog’s Christmas Present, directed by RJ Tolan is about two young people Benji (Jake Hoffman) and Jess (Julie Fitzpatrick) the morning after a one night stand. The play is quite funny. Jess is a no-nonsense liberated woman and Benji harbors a good deal or romanticism and Jewish guilt. But Herzog spends far too much time talking about the various diseases Jess may or may not have given Benji (since it’s Christmas morning, these are presumably the presents) and only skims over the reasons they got together in the first place (both are recovering from broken relationships). As a result, Benji’s final remark, which one suspects is supposed to be ironic and thought-provoking makes about as much sense as a question mark on a blank piece of paper.
Tostitos penned by Michael John Garces and directed by May Adrales, may be the most ambitious of the plays. Garces seems to think he is exploring profound societal and generational issues.
Red (Andres Munar) rides onstage on his bicycle. Annie (Jenny Gomez) is waiting for him on her skateboard. For the first few minutes they exchange obscenities in what turns out to be a neighborhood parking lot. Then Tonya (Karen Eilbacher), who works in her father’s fast food restaurant, enters and tries unsuccessfully to ingratiate herself with the duo, but especially with Red, whom for some reason, she finds attractive.
After more obscenities and aggression — some directed against the hapless Tonya — Tonya’s father, Danny (Howard Overshown), comes into the parking lot, yells at everyone, has a fight with Red and leaves. Anyone who is still interested in the ending, is welcome to go see the show.
An Upset, written by David Auburn and directed by Harris Yulin, features two professional tennis players, called Male 1 (Matt Lauria) and Male 2 (Darren Goldstein). The one-act has three scenes and stretches over a period of several weeks (or perhaps longer), already a mistake in a one-act. It follows the relationship of the two men, mostly a continuation of their rivalry off the court. The conceit that is supposed to make this play work is that the two men eventually exchange roles. The envier becomes the envied. The winner becomes the loser. I’d rather have watched the tennis match.
The last play in this series is Quincy Long’s Wedding Pictures, directed by Kathleen Dimmick. The play is a burlesque pantomime of a 21st century wedding in which, after various mishaps, the Minister (Petronia Paley) eventually presides over a happy threesome of the Bride (Autumn Dornfeld), the Groom (Eric Glide) and the Lover (Jakob Hawkins), to the accompaniment of Violinist Heather Summerlad. Needless to say, the both the Bride and the Groom are the object of the Lover’s affections. But it should be mentioned that the most noteworthy element in this play is the violin music.
There are two more series in Marathon 30. That gives The Ensemble Studio Theatre ten more chances to show that they are incubating the worthwhile new talent of the future.
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