The end of the Ensemble Studio Theater 2002 Marathon has arrived, and its third set of one-act plays is wildly uneven, displaying a fascinating combination of great talent and curious - perhaps even unworkable - ideas.
The highlight of the sequence of plays currently being performed, and one of the highlights of the 2002 Marathon altogether, is Rogelio Martinez's Union City, New Jersey, Where Are You? Directed by Randal Myler, the play is sweet and heartfelt in telling its story of a young boy and his mother, refugees from Castro's Cuba, who try to make lives for themselves near New York City. They only visit the city twice a year, but when the boy discovers that his father, who left the family years earlier, is living there, his curiosity must be satisfied.
If Union City, New Jersey, Where Are You? has a flaw, it's probably that it tries to do too much; the mother being a cancer survivor has little to do with the rest of the story. But that's forgivable, because the play is very simple but very honest, treating its characters, plot, and even its locations with great reverence, respect, and detail. To top it off, the play's comic and dramatic moments are brilliantly brought to the surface by Rosie Perez as the mother, Felix Solis as the father, and Julien A. Carrasquillo as the boy, who carries most of the show and gives a performance that, in many cases, would be exceptional for someone twice his age.
Probably the best of the three remaining plays is My Father's Funeral, by Peter Maloney, who also stars. Beatrice Terry directed this bizarre tale that goes to every imaginable length to incorporate blackface humor, clowning, diabetes, and a Shakespearean gravedigger into its story. Most surprisingly, perhaps, is that it comes dangerously close to pulling it off. Though the events all more or less happen at a funeral, trips into the mind, the past, or even the local graveyard are not out of the ordinary.
The concepts start walking over each other pretty early on, but don't get out of hand until the last ten minutes or so, when Maloney seems to want everything to happen at once. At that point, the play spirals downward quickly, even though the resolution at the curtain is clever and one that you'll probably want to think about for a while. Peter Maloney is fine in his role, but Griffith Maloney, in his highly supporting role, has a lot of trouble matching his partner's wit or delivery. This makes the play even more uneven than its subject matter promises.
The two plays left, the ones that start and end the sequence, are the most problematic and the least entertaining. The earlier one, Hope Bloats, tries harder. Patricia Scanlon wrote and stars as a woman who's just returned from a stay at the hospital, trying to get her life back in order again. She's faced with a devoted husband (Dave Simonds), but a severe sense of confusion and apprehension about the world around her, and trying to get back into life is a frightening proposition.
The last play of the evening is Graeme Gillis's The Moon Bath Girl, about two young people caught in a strange love triangle. Terry (Michael Esper) loves Colleen and is saving himself for her, Anna (Alicia Goranson) loves Terry, and is saving herself for him. Or so she says. The two spend most of their time fighting with each other, delving into questions about how the other perceives sex, or, of course, exploring their feelings for each other, with predictable results.
Neither of these two plays take off, the familiar subject matter and lack of distinct creative ideas preventing them from seeming like more than rejected television plotlines. Still, both plays do have occasional moments of theatrical inspiration: Director David Briggs uses some interesting techniques to dramatize Scanlon's breakdown and recovery in Hope Bloats, ending the play with a surprisingly charming moment. The Moon Bath Girl is woefully light on charm, but that show's director, Eliza Beckwith, came up with one remarkable scene change that manages to tell us more about that show's characters than the dialogue or the actors do.
Of the plays, Union City, New Jersey, Where Are You? is the only one that has it all, and it alone is definitely worth visiting the final sequence of EST's Marathon.
SERIES C / Through JUNE 16
MARATHON 2002, E.S.T.ís 25th annual festival of new one-act plays, at E.S.T.