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|A CurtainUp Review
Thicker Than Water: Four New One-Act Plays
Heartbreak of the Last Handwriting, Heights, Tooth, Baby Blue
By Les Gutman its producer, Youngblood, the "company of emerging professional playwrights" at Ensemble Studio Theatre. As perhaps befits a group of presumably young playwrights, the most common vein one can follow through their disparate offerings has to do with dating or, more elementally, finding love.
Youngblood staged its first "Thicker" one-acts a couple of year's ago, and followed, last year, with the full-length Gretty Good Time. (See link below.) Unlike E.S.T.'s summer Marathon series of one-acts, which often feature short new plays by playwrights who are household names, this collection gives similar treatment to the work of new-ish writers whose talent has yet to be "discovered."
The good news is that they give their more celebrated colleagues a run for their money. The first three plays in this batch are quite good. The disappointing fourth provides, if nothing else, an instructive contrast.
The past year or so has seen an explosion of plays that bring the new world of internet "chat" rooms into the dramatic literature (Closer, The Dying Gaul and Y2K, to name a few). None have done so as elegantly or expansively as Jeremy Soule's "Heartbreak of the Last Handwriting," an ephemeral romance between a pair of young, unsure searchers, Joel (Jason O'Leary) and Melanie (Amy Love), known online as Chopin6 and Sorry12. They are as sincere as they are adorable. Offsetting the cyber world and real world (as played out in coffee houses), Soule explores the pitfalls and complexities of separating the real from the imagined in a way that transcends both environments.
The romantic entanglement that figures in Amy Fox's clever if somewhat predictable rooftop triangulation, Heights, shows that face-to-face reckonings are subject to no fewer surprises and uncertainties that the electronic variety. Isabel (Sally Wheeler) can't sleep so she lounges on the roof of her apartment building, where Alec (Anderson Gabrych) is laying out a candlelight dinner for someone special. She knows she's spoiling his plans, but she has no idea to what extent. By the time she has a confrontation with her fiancé, Jonathan (Peter Rini), all three performers have dispatched finely-tuned characterizations that leave no doubt as to the play's emotional core.
The punch of a great little one-act is most effectively demonstrated by Crystal Skillman's Tooth, which I'd declare "best-of-show" in most every respect. There's no time here for lengthy exposition or complex plot-building: Skillman gets in and out quickly, leaving us with a most satisfying grin. A didactic writer (Frank Whaley) who probably doesn't get many second dates is on his first with a bank teller (Francie Swift). Whaley's tour-de-force rendition of this walking ego-trip sets up the trumping Swift executes with gusto. Both of them are terrific, and the story, as the man would say, goes "Boom!""
S. Vasanti Saxena's Baby Blue can barely manage a fizzle. Sporting an incestuous, dysfunctional family at its base, Saxena plays in Tennesssee Williams's sandbox for half an hour, by the end of which she hasn't managed to uncover anything worth carrying home. The actors are not to blame. Rock (Michael Ryan Segal) is the confused son of Wanda (Anne Newhall). There's also a daughter, Kira (Amy Staats), who deserves hazardous duty pay for walking around soaking wet on one of the coldest nights of the year. Wanda's current boyfriend, Jarvis (Marc Romero), serves little purpose here other than to express my feelings exactly: "I think we'd best be leaving."
Design here, as always seems the case at E.S.T., evokes great things on a shoestring. It's the most easily observed aspect of work that is consistently diligent, inventive and well-considered.
LINKS TO PLAYS MENTIONED ABOVE
CurtainUp's review of Gretty Good Time
CurtainUp's review of Closer
CurtainUp's review of The Dying Gaul
CurtainUp's review of Y2K