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A CurtainUp Review
EST Marathon 2010 — Series B

There's spoonfuls of theater being served up at the Ensemble Studio Theatre's one-act festival, and I relished the opportunity to sample the five-play Series B program. All the playlets smack of genuine talent, but only t works have that je ne sais quoi quality that can penetrate your mind and touch your soul.

In Laura Jacqmin's Airborne, the playwright takes a wisp of plot and expands it into a provocative work about Jensen (Megan Tusing), a paratrooper falling to her untimely death. Jensen is the victim, her Commanding Officer (Amy Staats) the witness, the sky the setting, Jensen's death the impending tragedy. Helmed by Dan Bonnell the story unfolds with utter simplicity. There are three other cast members on stage whose chief function is to tether Jensen to a faux parachute and evoke the experience of a woman falling headlong to earth. Jensen is not only a paratrooper here but a human being, experiencing the last spontaneous and frightening moments of her life with daring attentiveness. As she plummets through the air, the Commanding Officer alternately barks orders at her and comments on the inevitability of her death. The playwright accentuates the grimness of the situation with terse dialogue. In spite of the gruesome event we're witnessing, Airborne is a strikingly beautiful piece of theater.

David Auburn's Amateurs is equally gripping. It addresses the darker side of politics and how the ghosts of an old campaign can return to haunt the winners and losers alike. Deftly directed by Harris Yulin, this work revolves around a young woman (Diana Ruppe) confronting the politico (David Rasche) whom she believes destroyed her father's career. What makes the piece memorable is that it starts out friendly as you please and then suddenly twists at midpoint to reveal the daughter's hidden agenda and the politico's cold-bloodedness. Theatergoers e familiar with Auburn's Pulitzer Prize winning Proof won't be surprised at how seamlessly the author can shift the action, and propel his narrative forward. He thrusts you into the political arena, not through the expected "platform speeches" and campaign slogans, but through the painful memories of a politician's daughter. Consider this one-acter as a primer on how American politics shouldn't be done. There are episodes that recount the candidate's backstabbing each other, sexual misconduct of all kinds, and the daughter's failed attempt at an Olympic medal. Auburn reminds you that political charm and crudeness are often flip sides of the same coin. Solidly written, the only disappoint is that this isn't a full-length drama.

They Float Up, Interviewing Miss Davis and Anniversary don't land with the same impact as the first two plays. Jacquelyn Reingold's They Float Up is a bittersweet piece about Joan (Kellie Overbey), an aging topless dancer from New York's Finger Lakes region who travels to New Orleans to have a go at the good life in the French Quarter. She meets construction worker Darnell (William Jackson Harper) at a dancing club and immediately try to seduce him with her sexy dancing. Much like jazz music, this piece has riffs of dialogue that at first seem to drift nowhere but then return with dramatic impact. The work is by far the most topical of the evening, with subtle references to Hurricane Katrina and the recent Gulf Oil Spill.

Laura Maria Censabella's Interviewing Miss Davis pulls you right into the living room of the legendary screen star Bette Davis (Delphi Harrington). The scenario is structurally straightforward, with the famous actress interviewing a young woman who hopes to be her next personal assistant. Davis's long-time personal assistant Jackie (Adria Vitlar) is departing the post to marry a royal count, and the enviable job is up for grabs. The audience watches as the grand dame questions the nervous ingenue Eliza (Claire Siebers), with Davis artfully pinning her down like a live butterfly on a bulletin board. This brief excursion through Davis's private life, intentionally set during the year when her real-life daughter published a scandalous memoir. is flamboyant and fun, but it merely scratches the surface of the legendary Davis.

Last up and least successful , is Rachel Bonds's Anniversary, a romantic vignette overly reliant ,s on a verbal refrain ("on the anniversary of your death") that ultimately sounds tedious. Even so, Bond gently points out that our culture has clearly shifted ground in romantic relationships, and that the "rescue complex" is no longer valid.

This annual marathon always has something worth seeing — and, as is the case with Amateurs and Airborne — includes some works that deserve post-festival life.

The Ensemble Studio Theatre One-Act Play Marathon: Series B They Float Up
By Jacquelyn Reingold
Directed by Michael Barakiva
Cast: William Jackson Harper; Kellie Overbey

Airborne By Laura Jacqmin
Directed by Dan Bonnell
Cast: Megan Tusing; Amy Staats; Edward Boroevich; W. Tre Davis; Brynne Morrice

Interviewing Miss Davis By Laura Maria Censabella Directed by Kel Hanley
Cast: Claire Siebers; Delphi Harrington; Adria Vitlar

By David Auburn
Directed by Yulin Harris
Cast: David Rasche; Diana Ruppe; Debbie Lee Jones

Anniversary By Rachel Bonds
Directed by Linsay Firman
Cast: Julie Fitzpatrick; Jerry Richardson; Edward Boroevich; Claire Siebers

Sets: Maiko Chii
Costumes: Arnulfo Maldonado
Sound & Original Music: Shane Rettig
Lighting: Greg MacPherson
Fight Choreographer, Interviewing Miss Davis & They Float Up: Mark Olsen
Stunt Choreographer, Airborne: Maggie MacDonald
Choreographer, They Float Up: Mimi Quillin
Production Stage Manager: Danielle Buccino
The Ensemble Studio Theatre at 549 West 52nd Street.
Single tickets are $18 and a Two Series Pass is $30. Phone 866/ 811-4111 or visit or
From 6/05/10; opening 6/10/10; closing 6/26/10.
Runs June 12, 18, 21, 23, 24, 25 and 26 at 7:00 pm with matinees June 13 and 20 at 3:00 pm and June 19 and 26 at 2:00 pm.
Running time: 2 hours; 20 minutes including intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on June 10th press performance
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