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A CurtainUp Review
Summer Shorts 2017, Series B

Summer Shorts 2017, Series B
Rachel Napoleon, Georgia Ximenes Lifsher, and Donovan Mitchell in Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds's Wedding Bash (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The summer of 2017 marks the eleventh installment of Throughline Artists's Summer Shorts Festival of New American Short Plays at 59E59 Theaters, which is presented in two installments. Series B is discussed below.

While Summer Shorts is never constructed around a central theme, the plays that make up this year's Series B all happen to center around several transactions, of sorts. A congregant agitates for change in her church; friends struggle with ideas of debt and obligation; an athlete looks to assure his legacy.

Even though negotiations fall at the center of each of the plays, the stakes are so different in each one that the stories each have their own distinct feel and charge.

Chris Cragin-Day's A Woman depicts Kim (Jennifer Ikeda) meeting with the newly appointed pastor of her church, and her longtime friend, Cliff (Mark Boyett) about a nomination she has submitted for a female elder. In fact, Kim has made this suggestion every year for the past nine years, and Cliff is the first to even discuss it—but he may be less interested in talking about Kim's proposal than in talking her out of it.

Directed with understatement by Kel Haney, A Woman shows a significant debate over dogma unfolding calmly over coffee. Ikeda and Boyett's delivery is always respectful and steeled, while their characters never seem too far from a breaking point, either. The play, by far the least in-your-face of the evening's three, is a staid, thoughtful examination of what fighting for one's beliefs looks like on a quotidian scale, and how little cracks can eventually take down walls.

Of a strikingly different tone, Wedding Bash, written by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds, is a cartoony look at the limits of friendship. Newly married Dana (Rachel Napoleon) and Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) have their friends Edi (Georgia Ximenes Lifsher) and Alan (Andy Powers) over for dinner to debrief their destination wedding. However, when it becomes clear not everyone enjoyed themselves, the discussion morphs into a contentious post-mortem.

The guiltily enjoyable, often cringe-inducing conversation featured in Wedding Bash, directed to maximum effect by J.J. Kandel, feels like something out of a Seinfeld episode—completely unfiltered, taking place among self-involved characters, and impossible to imagine in real life. Yet the unbelievable, exaggerated nature of the play isn't a detriment. Rather, it enables the short to acutely poke fun at the strange rituals of the modern wedding and the question of what we really owe our friends.

Indebtedness and obligation are also key themes in Neil LaBute's Break Point. The final one-act of the night centers on a meeting of two professional tennis rivals, Oliver (John Garrett Greer) and Stan (KeiLyn Durrel Jones), shortly before they face each other in a semi-final match at the French Open. Though the conversation seems innocuous at the start, it's clear that Oliver arranged their meeting for a reason.

As is his style, LaBute—who directs here as well—creates mysterious characters with murky motives. At first, Oliver seems hopelessly and obnoxiously out of touch with his conversant, employing privileged logic and focusing on his own self-interest. But the longer we watch, the easier it is to believe that he knows exactly what he's doing in a game of psychological prowess.

Of course, that may be exactly what Stan wants him to think, too. Break Point tantalizes us with the question of who really has the upper hand. But the effect is like standing on quicksand: the more we try to figure it out, the less certain we are.

Series B of Summer Shorts runs simultaneous with Series A, which CurtainUp was unable to review this year, through early September. See details for both series in the Production Notes.

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Summer Shorts 2017, Series B
by Chris Cragin-Day
Directed by Kel Haney
with Mark Boyett (Cliff) and Jennifer Ikeda (Kim)
Assistant Director: Kate German

by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds
Directed by J.J. Kandel
with Georgia Ximenes Lifsher (Edi), Donovan Mitchell (Lonny), Rachel Napoleon (Dana), and Andy Powers (Alan)
Assistant Director: James Rees

Written and Directed by Neil LaBute
with John Garrett Greer (Oliver) and KeiLyn Durrel Jones (Stan)
Assistant Director: Lily Kamp

Set Design: Rebecca Lord-Surratt
Lighting Design: Greg MacPherson
Sound Design/Composer: Nick Moore
Costume Design: Amy Sutton
Props Design: Elisabeth Orr
Projection Design: Nicholas Hussong
Assistant Producer: Krysta Hibbard
Production Manager: Richard A. Leigh
Technical Director: Dan Teachout
Production Stage Manager: Dee Dee Katchen
Stage Manager: Jenna R. Lazar
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission
Presented by Throughline Artists at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues)
Tickets: $25 for a single ticket, or $40 a Pair of Shorts (includes Series A and B);, 212-279-4200
From 7/29/2017; opened 8/6/2017; closing 9/2/2017
Performance times: Summer Shorts plays Tuesday–Thursday at 7:15 pm, Friday at 8:15 pm, Saturday at 2:15 and 8:15 pm, and Sunday at 3:15 and 7:15 pm; check for which series play at which times.
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 8/5/2017 performance

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