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A CurtainUp Review
EST 2011 Marathon of One-Act Plays, Series B
By Les Gutman
The first two plays raise a question David Letterman asks in occasional segments on his show -- is this anything? David Zellnik's "For Elise" asks us to find some elusive connection between gay marriage and a Hasidic wedding of a hitherto non-devout Jewish young man, Josh (Drew Hirshfeld). The utterly predictable story has Josh's grandmother, Elise (a very believable Delphi Harrington), a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, outside of the wedding hall bonding, un-bonding and re-bonding with his gay cousin, Donny (Erik Liberman), interrupted only by similar bonding with Josh, in turn interrupted by what may or may not have been a collapse. All three actors perform very well, Pamela Berlin's staging is very good and yet it all adds up to very little.
Even less can be said for "Two From The Line" by Michael Louis Wells. Two guys (Curran O'Connor and Eddie Boroevich) sit at home and watch a basketball game. Then one says something unexpected, and proceeds to do something unexpected. Considerable beer has been consumed, which may explain some things, but the only mystery is what the point of this is. R.J. Tolan directs.
The final play before the intermission, Steven Sater's "Mrs. Jones and the Man from Dixieland," also has very little to say, at least that's comprehensible. It's redeemed, however, by a terrific performance by Uzo Aduba as Mrs. Jones, a blind woman sitting in a rocking chair holding a baby. She is visited several times by a man bearing gifts (Stanton Nash). It's clear this is building to something, which it does, but there's no payoff in the story once we find out what. José Zayas's direction does little to sort things out. We do get a different payoff, however, in the form of a song, written by Mr. Sater with his Spring Awakening collaborator, Duncan Sheik. It's quite lovely and well sung by Ms. Aduba, accompanied by Mr. Nash.
Cassandra Medley's "Cell" has a lot to say, and does so sharply, efficiently and entertainingly. Rene (Lizan Mitchell) lives in a trailer and works for a government contractor that screens immigrants seeking to enter the United States. When unemployment benefits for her sister and niece (MaConnia Chesser and Shyko Amos) run out, she takes them in and gets them work with her employer. Over the course of a few short scenes, this play examines the meaning of doing what one is told, doing what it takes to stay employed and suppressing one's better instincts. This against the backdrop of the desperation arising during hard economic times, while at the same time managing to illuminate the stresses these conditions place on members of a family, the morality of our immigration policy and the best way to cook pasta. Ms. Mitchell is a treasure, and her castmates are not far behind; Jamie Richards's direction is top notch.
In "I Know" by Jacquelyn Reingold, a couple of aging actors (Beth Dixon and Jack Davidson) who have been together without the benefit of marriage for decades, confront long-known secrets and some underlying truths prompted by some bad news one of them has received. It's a keenly observed and poignant piece, with enough theater references to provoke repeated chuckles from the many industry insiders in attendance. Dixon and Davidson couldn't be better; the basis for their relationship couldn't be more palpable. Dan Bonnell stages it adroitly.
As this year's Marathon comes to a close, I can't say it has been the best in my memory, or even close. EST made much of the fact that this year's Marathon included plays only by its member playwrights. As admirable as that may be, I think it deprives the festival of one of its long-term drawing cards -- short plays by well known playwrights -- and perhaps it also accounts for some of the qualitative lapses this year.
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