The Ensemble Studio Theatre has just begun their 25th annual Marathon, a collection of new plays from both established playwrights and newcomers.
The first sequence of plays, now playing at the Ensemble Studio Theatre on West 52nd Street is definitely a spotty collection of works, yet each play manages to find something of value for its audience, and one finds quite a bit more than that.
The first of the evening's four shows is Romulus Linney's Lark, which follows prospective pianist Thea (Winslow Corbett) through her difficult series of music lessons with a bizarre and confusing teacher (Chris Hutchison). Lark often feels like a traditional teacher-student story, where both the student and teacher learn from and teach each other.
But Lark is less about the influence of others on us that our influence on ourselves. It might resonate most strongly with artists struggling to find the best way of expressing themselves through their craft, unable, like Thea, to reconcile their desires with their abilities. Lark is not complex, nor is it developed enough to be particularly moving, but contains some fascinating ideas and insights into the artist's struggle.
In Lisa-Maria Radano's Why I Followed You, a woman (Toby Poser) follows a man (Felix Solis) into a restaurant, then tells him so. The two spend most of the rest of the play trying to deduce exactly why she has done this, and what emptiness in her soul can be filled to make her living worthwhile.
Like Lark, this play is based on a familiar idea, but Radano, takes it to less interesting places. The story and characters are too visibly crafted to be dramatically enticing. The woman's ruminations are particularly abstruse, and she gives a number of forced speeches that sound like they were cobbled from every psychological cliche known to the modern world. Solis gives a better performance than Poser does, if only because his lesser-written role gives him more of a real person to play.
The characters in Salvage Baas definitely seem more believable. Brian Silverman has written the third play of the evening, which is set in Nigeria and focuses on the struggles of two men (Cyrus Farmer and Geoffrey C. Ewing) trying to fight the American corporate culture and maintain their cherished way of life.
Farmer and Ewing give striking, entertaining performances, but Silberman's dialogue and situations don't bring to light many new thoughts about the play's subject matter. Salvage Baas ends before it really gets started. Its first half feels like the beginning of a captivating play, its later moments spoiling that promise with the need for a conclusion.
The final play of the evening, and the most unabashedly entertaining, suffers from no such problem. To explain the events or characters of Billy Aronson's Reunions in too much detail would be to rob the piece of its delightful, surprising nature, to deprive you of journeying into a world similar to ours, yet one surprisingly different.
Set at a college reunion, the entire purpose of Reunions is to redefine the answer to the question, "What do you want to do with you life?" Each of the play's seven characters - played with light comic flair by Hope Chernov, Kathrine Leask, Thomas Lyons, Maria Gabriele, and Grant Shaud - has discovered a unique answer to that question. Aronson's exploration of the characters combined with the sparkling direction of Jamie Richards results in a very funny play indeed.
SERIES A / MAY 8 through MAY 19
SERIES B / MAY 22 through JUNE 2
SERIES C / JUNE 5 through JUNE 16
MARATHON 2002, E.S.T.ís 25th annual festival of new one-act plays, at E.S.T.