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A CurtainUp Review
EST Marathon Series B

Series A of Ensemble Studio Theatre's 2009 Marathon disappointed some, but Series B came roaring back with one-acts that ranged from quite good to excellent.

Carol & Jill written by Leslie Ayvazian and directed by Daniella Topol, explores the relationship of two aging women, who, along with their husbands, are celebrating fall and Carol's sixtieth birthday at a bed and breakfast somewhere in the country. Jill (the feisty Janet Zarish) is an adventurous spirit whose escapades include trekking through the Amazon to a place where the River Negro and the River Solimoes meet by sulfurous falls (this writer had a similar experience in the Dominican Republic, only without the sulfur). Carol is more conservative and more cautious. She refers to Jilll's adventures as "all the shit you do." However, it is Carol who opens the door to speculation on their sexuality, their friendship and their future. Once the two women walk through the doorway they enter a world of humor, insight and compassion.

Jeanne Dorsey's Blood from a Stoner is directed by Maria Mileaf. It also explores a relationship, this time between an aging father (veteran David Margulies, who recently impressed this reviewer in Chasing Manet) and his daughter (Patricia Randell), a busy professional who has found the time to meet her father in a Greenwich Village coffee shop. The father is a sardonic product of the Great Depression, a man who counts his pennies and is sure poverty, along with other troubles, lurks around every corner. The daughter is impatient and exasperated until an accident and the intervention of a sympathetic waiter (the excellent Thomas Lyons) teach her a valuable lesson.

The characters in Billy Aronson's Little Duck are not interested in improving their relationships, but rather outwitting their rivals and furthering their own agendas. In this mock melodrama, deftly directed by Jamie Richards, the audience is given a behind-the-scenes peek at what happens during the creation of a television series. Robert (Paul Bartholomew) has come up the idea for a children's show about a bunch of lovable animals and jealously guards his position of authority. His assistant Holly (Jane Pfitsch) is maneuvering into position to take over. Dr. Jill (Julie Leedes) wants to make the main character physically challenged. The art director, JR (Steven Boyer) and writer, Anne (Geneva Carr) form a brief alliance in their own bid take over. Add to this a touch of sexual perversion and the result is madcap mayhem worthy of the Marx Brothers without censorship.

The most challenging play of the evening is Cassandra Medley's Daughter directed by Petronia Paley. A memory play that takes place in the mind of Alma (Gayle Samuels), an African American woman who has struggled all her life to raise her daughter and follow her religious convictions, Daughter is not always easy to follow as scenes shift uneasily between time and place. Kaliswa Brewster plays Alma's young daughter, Monique, who was horribly disfigured when her Humvee was blown up in Iraq. Lynne Matthews and Natalie Carter portray Louise and Viola, Alma's two friends and fellow choir members. Carter's gospel singing provides some of the play's best moments. The play suffers from being a bit too long and much too hysterical. As much as one would like to empathize with the agony of the characters, too much screaming onstage just doesn't work.

The longest and most ambitious of the plays is M.Z. Ribalow's Sundance, directed by Matthew Penn. The play imagines a meeting between Wild Bill Hickock (Richmond Hoxie), Jesse James (David Deblinger), Sundance Kid (Rob Sedgwick) and Billy the Kid (J.J. Kandel) in a saloon maintained by a cowardly and pragmatic Barkeep (Ean Sheehy). Hickock is an intellectual who kills for patriotic reasons. James kills for the fun of it. Billy kills in the cause of political freedom and Sundance shoots people down because "they're there." Sundance might have been a wonderfully funny satire on the genre and an effective critique of the various reasons humans give for justifying murderous behavior. But Ribalow couldn't resist taking himself too seriously and there was little Penn could do to save the play other than cutting it as ruthlessly as any of the gunslingers would have cut short the life of anyone who got in his way.

Review of Series A

The Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon 2009: Series B
Playwrights: Leslie Ayvazian, Jeanne Dorsey, Billy Aronson, Cassandra Medley, M.Z. Ribalow
Directors: Daniella Topol, Maria Mileaf, Jamie Richards, Petronia Paley, Matthew Penn
Cast: Leslie Ayvazian, Janet Zarish, David Margulies, Patricia Randell, Thomas Lyons, Paul Bartholomew, Jane Pfitsch, Julie Leedes, Steven Boyer, Geneva Carr, Gayle Samuels, Kaliswa Brewster, Lynne Matthew, Natalie Carter, Richmond Hoxie, David Deblinger, Ean Sheehy, Rob Sedgwick, J.J. Kandel
Set Design: Maiko Chii
Lighting Design: Cat Tate
Costume Design: Suzanne Chesney
Sound Design: Shane Rettig
Prop Design: Joseph Heitman Fight Choreographer: Maggie MacDonald
The Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street (866) 811-4111
Performances: June 5 at 7pm, June 6 at 2pm, June 7 at 3pm, June 8 at 7pm, June 12 at 7pm, June 13 at 2pm, June 18 at 7pm, June 20 at 2pm, June 20 at 7pm, June 21 at 3pm, June 22 at 7pm, June 25 at 7pm, June 26 at 7pm, June 27 at 2pm, Saturday June 27 at 7pm
Tickets: $18.00
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 7, 2009
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