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A CurtainUp Review
Summer Shorts, Series A
By Les Gutman
If it is true that imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the new Summer Shorts series at 59E59 has a lot of good things to say about EST's long-running short play institution, the Marathon. It even includes many familiar Marathon names, both on stage and off.
Also like the Marathon, Summer Shorts features multiple grouplets of plays, eventually appearing in repertory. (Series B starts August 8.) And finally, it is a mixed bag in which success is best measured on terms similar to those of that other summer pastime, baseball, where a season that ends up over .500 is laudable. The first evening at bat for Summer Shorts comes out right about .500 -- maybe a few notches above.
The first play in the series, Michael Domitrovich's "Real World Experience," is by far the weakest of the group. After several minutes of hackneyed New York theater navel-gazing by two men, well portrayed by J.J. Kandel and David Marcus, there is hope that the arrival of the casts only female, Nicole LaLibertée, will shake things up. It does, a bit, though not to meaningful effect, and the short opener limps off without making much of an impression.
"Rain, Heavy at Times," Leslie Lyles' superbly funny take on the ladies who lunch, family style, reveals the best acting of the evening, thanks in the first instance to Judith Roberts, but nearly as much to Stephanie Cannon and Mark Elliot Wilson as well. Cannon is having lunch with her old rich aunt, possibly suffering from Alzheimer's, but nonetheless still as feisty if questionably wise as always. Wilson is their waiter and, in a tour-de-force surprise twist-and-a-half, the voice on the niece's answering machine. It's a play about family, men, undergarments from Victoria's Secret, the perfect and plentiful Martini, and keeping assisted living facilities in Kansas -- far away because it would be exorbitantly expensive to visit -- at bay.
Warren Leight brings us the most topical play of the evening. His "Amici, Ascoltate" is about the generations of Marino boys who have been sent off to war, and how the family has dealt with it. Tony Campisi is the star here. The fulcrum of the story, his Tony avoided Vietnam with a high number in the draft lottery and now waits for his own son to leave for Iraq. It's a performance so rooted in reality that nothing else that surrounds really matters much, though it's terrific that Leight populated the play with others -- both Derek Lucci, as all of the other Marino men and Rozie Bacchi, as the women, do fine work under Evan Yionoulus's sensitive direction. (Editor's Note: This was actually seen in another series put on by New 42nd Street, Armed and Naked in America, and also directed by Yionoulus.
The final offering represents a huge change of pace -- a short musical! Though neither Eduardo Machado's book (it's about an imaginary later-in-life reconnection between J.M. Barrie (John Hickok) and his erstwhile wife (Ann Talman)), nor his flat-footed lyrics, add up to all that much, composer Skip Kennon's enjoyable and sometimes quite lovely music gives the enterprise just enough lift to keep it afloat. Kennon accompanies the singers, who remain seated at a table drinking tea almost the entire time, on piano.
Design elements for all of the shows are well considered, though Maruti Evan's transitions between shows drag on far too long for this type of undertaking. That said, it's a fine first effort, and we can look forward to the intriguing possibilities of Series B, summarized below. For review and details of that series go here.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide