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A CurtainUp Review
Summer Shorts 2015, Series A
By Jacob Horn
It's never been the style of Summer Shorts to arrange its series around an organizing theme, but in this year's Series A, it's almost as if the plays are tempting you to test different ways of locking them together. While there's still no central theme, the three one-acts have an uncanny way of echoing one another in ways that are reliably striking, if not necessarily of deep dramatic significance.
The first two plays are, in fact, thematically similar: they offer examples of men and woman meeting under unusual circumstances and somehow attempting to use one another. The second and third plays, meanwhile, are grounded in recent history and explore how individuals relate to the larger movements that arise in the aftermath of tragedy. The first and third plays both include similar conversations about the 'ideal' gender to have as a child; the second and third both happen to feature women who really like their whiskey.
And so, lest I belabor the point, these unconnected plays do overlap and adjoin. Seeing how one treats a topic can color how you view another's approach, which winds up being more satisfying than a lineup of shows that are truly disconnected from one another.
The evening begins with Neil LaBute's 10K, a suburban psychological thriller of sorts that features Clea Alsip and J.J. Kandel as a woman and man who meet in a park one morning and go on a run together. The meeting seems to be a chance encounter, and yet a look that the woman gives the man upon his arrival makes you wonder if there might be something more salacious afoot. The sexual tension is thick right away, and it doesn't take long for the topic to arise ("We managed to not talk about that subject for about 15 minutes or so... a man and a woman together. SEX," the woman laments, less than convincingly).
In a play where every line is loaded with hidden meaning, or will at least be interpreted as such, Alsip and Kandel are carefully attentive to subtlety and nuance; that they are able to do so while running in place for the better part of a half hour is particularly impressive. The play occasionally layers on the air of mystery a bit too thick, but there's also something disarmingly real about the man and woman's conversation, guided by LaBute's own precise direction.
Vickie Ramirez's Glenburn 12 WP takes place at a bar near Grand Central in the midst of the recent "die-in" protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement. A black man named Troy (W. Tre Davis) finds the bar empty until he's discovered by Roberta (Tanis Parenteau), a member of the Mohawk tribe. The two get off to a bad start — Roberta pushily asks Troy why he isn't protesting ("If you want to go protest, you should go protest," Troy says, to which Roberta replies, "Oh, no, not in the mood"). Troy aggravates Roberta by suggesting she has an obligation to "make him feel comfortable," which she takes as a gendered remark.
As the two continue talking, they discover more common ground than they expected, in addition to some key things they don't have in common. Davis and Parenteau have good stage chemistry, comfortably volleying compliments, insults, and challenges alike off one another. The play's eventual rapid escalation feels somewhat incongruous, but its sharp commentary on race relations and elucidations of minority perspectives in contemporary America are jarring in a welcome, insightful way.
The final play of the night, Matthew Lopez's The Sentinels follows a group of 9/11 widows (Meg Gibson, Michelle Beck, and Kellie Overbey) in reverse-chronological order from 2011 as they observe (or fail to observe) their annual ritual of going to a nearby coffee shop after each year's memorial service. Following the play's artfully deployed timeline and the actors' sensitive portrayals, we see how the women come to find their own ways of grieving, remembering, and forgetting the horrific events of September 11, 2001, and how they've each changed with the passage of time.
Structurally, the play offers a nice contrast to the previous two: it's faster paced, features a cast of four women rather than a male and female couple, and it's the most emotionally affecting. The backwards movement through time provides an interesting lens on the characters' development, though the short scenes of the short play don't leave room for much nuance. Still, the show offers an interesting new take on the 9/11 narrative that doesn't primarily focus on the event itself or its subsequent geopolitical consequences, exploring one particular facet of the horrific day's aftermath on deeply human terms.