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E.S.T. MARATHON 2002, Series B

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Continuing with their 25th annual series, the Ensemble Studio Theater is now presenting the next four pieces in its Marathon of one-act plays.

These plays, overall, are a slightly better crop than the last entries of a couple of weeks ago, with three of them being entertaining and interesting enough to warrant your time.

The one play of the four that does not is the evening's final entry, entitled Salvation. Written by Bill Bozzone and directed by Keith Reddin, it's curiously empty, despite being based on an intriguing premise. Jarod (Rishi Mehta), a juvenile delinquent, wants to run away with his babysitter, Echo (Katie Walder), to Arizona.

The story is too light to sustain any dramatic tension at all, even over a short running time. The other man (Alex Feldman) brought into the story to spark things up (in more ways than one) doesn't. It's not the fault of the actor - he just isn't given much to do. Bozzone's intriguing setups, promising to deal with sex, religion, abuse, and violence, are touched upon tangentially at best, when they are touched on at all. The comes too quickly to its too conclusive ending, and feels like a strange cross between a sitcom and an after-school special.

The play immediately preceding it feels much less like warmed over television, though that happens to be the very subject matter with which it deals. Roger Heddon's Adaptation deals with four peoples' efforts to convince a novelist (Brooke Smith) that her first play, "Incestuous Glances," would be better served as the pilot of a television series. The play follows the clash of motivations, focusing on the man (Dennis Boutsikaris) who is caught in the middle.

Billy Hopkins has directed it with a slick pace, and the theatrical equivalents of split-screens and quick-cuts, perfect for the material. The actors fill out their roles well, especially the two oily TV executives (played by Ian Reed Kesler and Spencer Garrett), but Smith occasionally seems overburdened by her weightier, more theatrical dialogue. Still, the contrast works and Adaptation works from its beginnings as an apparent situation comedy to its final scenes of genuine tragic drama.

There's also compelling drama to be found in the evening's first play, Am Lit, or Hibernophilia. Dan O'Brien's script finds Joe (Tom Bloom), an American literature professor in a midwestern college, growing more and more fed up with America, longing to return to Ireland after the death of his wife. He must deal with his elderly parents, indignant son, and waves of disapproval at his choice.

Bloom handles his role very well, capturing Joe's frustration and angst with deft, though as the story is handled almost entirely through correspondence, some dramatic weight is lost. Kevin Confoy's direction is fine and allows Bloom to shine when he's Joe alone, but neither is able to completely present the other characters of Joe's life effectively. The story as a whole, though, is well-handled and moving, with the play's final moments - in which Joe ponders his life while waiting for his flight at JFK - are very striking.

The one remaining play is also the best one. Horton Foote is the author of The Prisoner's Song, a colorful and heartbreaking portrayal of the harsh economic conditions of 1920s Texas. John (Tim Guinee), a recovering alcoholic, is desperate to find employment to support his wife, Mae (Mary Catherine Garrison), when most jobs are provided by a handful of oil magnates who are determined to keep as much of the money to themselves as they can.

Marceline Hugot and Michael P. Moran round out the cast very well, but everyone giving highly detailed and touching performances evoking the class struggle at the heart of the play. Garrison is a particular standout, however, at once youthful and scarred, eager to please, but rightfully afraid of the almost inevitable events ahead. Foote's drama is well-constructed, well presented, and the most stirring theatre of the evening. It alone is worth the trip.

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SERIES B / MAY 22 through JUNE 2
SALVATION by Bill Bozzone
ADAPTATION by Roger Heddon
PRISONERíS SONG by Horton Foote
AM LIT, OR HIBERNOPHILIA, by Dan OíBrien

SERIES C / JUNE 5 through JUNE 16
MY FATHERíS FUNERAL, by Peter Maloney
UNION CITY, NJ, WHERE ARE YOU? by Rogelio Martinez
HOPE BLOATS by Patricia Scanlon
THE MOON BATH GIRL, by Graeme Gillis

MARATHON 2002, E.S.T.ís 25th annual festival of new one-act plays, at E.S.T.
Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street
Tickets: (212) 247-4982