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A CurtainUp Review
Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon of One Act Plays (Series A)

"Don't you understand? You can't have this. You want something that you can't have. I told you that. You wouldn't listen. So I told you what you wanted to hear. But none of this matters because you are a dead woman. That's why you can't be poisoned. Because you are dead already."
—The Gypsy, to Kelly in John Patrick Shanley's "Poison"
Based on its terrific Series A (with B and C to follow), the Ensemble Studio Theatre's (EST) Marathon of One Act Plays is off to an auspicious start.

Often, an evening of short plays is something of a grab bag. You might get something good, or you might get a clunker. Sometimes one play will stand out and the rest will be quickly forgotten. I'm happy to report that each of the Series A offerings is a gem in its own right. While each play is strongly written, their uniformly excellent acting and direction have enhanced and made powerful that which, on the page, might be merely stirring.

In its 34 year existence, EST's Marathon has helped define the one-act play genre, showcasing the shorter works of household names in theater and film among those of talented lesser known playwrights.

Series A opens with the dark comedy, "Poison" by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Moonstruck). In "Poison" the desperate and unstable Kelly (Alicia Goranson) will do anything to win back her ex-boyfriend Kenny (Aaron Serotsky), including enlisting the help of a shady psychic (Jacqueline Antaramian). The actors deftly walk the line between comedy and drama, making this hybrid a tense but often hilarious little nugget from an eminent playwright.

In Dan O'Brien's "Kandahar to Canada," Paul (Jay Patterson), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with emotional and physical wounds of war, escorts Roya (lily Balsen), a bright and promising young Afghani girl to Ottawa to begin a new life free of the control of the Taliban. Abraham Makany is terrific playing an immigration officer on both sides of Roya's journey to freedom.

Eric Dufault's "Something Fine" is the most thematically ambitious of all the pieces, and suffers mixed, but occasionally powerful results. Involving a child custody battle and discussions among inanimate objects, it's a heady and challenging brew for a 20 minute play. Director Larissa Laury holds it together with equal parts tragedy and surreal humor. Lucy Devito stands out as a dashboard hula girl come to life.

"You Belong to Me," by Daniel Reitz, is a moving piece about two former lovers who meet on the subway 18 years after their split. Director Marcia Jean Kurtz keeps Reitz's tearjerker from veering off the rails into sentimentality. Scott Parkinson as Ralph deserves kudos for his credible portrayal of a man navigating life with a serious mental illness.

Joshua Conkel's "Curmudgeons In Love" is the crowd pleaser of the bunch. With a relatively larger cast, and with a ripped-from-the-headlines flavor, it has the greatest potential for spinning out of control. It doesn't, thanks to Ralph Pena's fastidious direction, and the actors' skill in reigning in the play's over the top possibilities. David Margulies is superb as an assisted living facility resident who is not quite ready to put his life on the shelf.

Often, due to budget constraints or timing concerns, one-act play festivals feature bare-bones sets and production. That's not the case here. Scenic Designer Nick Francone and Prop Master Kate Lundell have created a fairly comprehensive set which nonetheless allows for smooth interstitial changes.

If you enjoy one-act plays —those concentrated, intense short stories of our contemporary theater — you'd be hard pressed to find a better group of them than those in EST's Series A. I'm looking forward to what EST has in store for the upcoming Series B and C. Stay tuned. Or better yet, buy yourself a ticket.

Marathon of One Act Plays (Series A)
By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by John Giampietro
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Chelsea Parrish
Cast: Jacqueline Antaramian (The Gypsy), Alicia Goranson (Kelly), Aaron Serotsky (Kenny)

"Kandahar to Canada"
By Dan O'Brien
Directed by Mark Armstrong
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Alisha Purcell
Projection Design: Eamonn Farrell
Cast: Lily Balsen (Roya), Abraham Makany (Officer), Jay Patterson (Paul)

"Something Fine"
By Eric Dufault
Directed by Larissa Lury
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Jon Huggins
Cast: Cathy Curtin (Beth), Lucy Devito (Hula Girl), Diana Ruppe (Virgin Mary)

"You Belong to Me"
By Daniel Reitz
Directed by Marcia Jean Kurtz
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Michele Connolly
Cast: Scott Parkinson (Robby), Patricia Randell (Susan)

"Curmudgeons in Love"
By Joshua Conkel
Directed by Ralph Pe?a
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Anne Huston
Cast: Veronica Cruz (Daniela), Nina Hellman (Robin), Alex Manette (Brant), David Margulies (Ralph), Martin Shakar (Jackie)
Artistic Director: William Carden
Executive Director: Paul Alexander Slee
Scenic Designer: Nick Francone
Costume Design: Ashley Farra
Lighting Design: Geoffrey Dunbar
Sound Design: Daniel Spitaliere
Properties Master: Kate Lundell
Fight Direction: Thomas Schall
Production Stage Manager: Chelsea Parrish
Production Manager: Robert Signom III
Technical Director: Steven Brenman
Running Time: 110 minutes, including one 15 intermission
The Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St., NYC,
Series A from May 18, 2013 - June 2, 2013; Opening May 21, 2013
Performance schedule: May 22, 23, 31, June 2 @ 7pm; June 1 & 2 @ 2 pm
Reviewed by William Coyle, based on the May 21, 2013 performance.
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