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Summer Shorts 2015, Series A

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis
Photo by Carol Rosegg
The most surprising moment in the three back-to-back plays that make up Summer Shorts 2015, Series A, half of an annual festival of new American short works at 59E59, may come in the form of an apology. From a man. In a piece written by Neil LaBute, a playwright with a reputation for creating misanthropic male protagonists who generally display an emphatic disregard for matters of politesse.

LaBute's contribution to the evening of short plays —each of which is approximately 30 minutes in length—is called 10K. In it, a man and a woman who are nodding acquaintances meet at the start of a 10K run and decide to pace one another. (Bless the buff actors, J. J. Kandel and Clea Alsip, who are called upon to converse while running in place for almost the entire play.) The unexpected apology occurs after the man blurts out a mild epithet as the two are chit-chatting about the weather, the kids, and such.

That "and such" does take a turn as the endorphins release, and the talk veers in the direction of more familiar LaBute territory as the two start to discuss their unhappiness with their respective spouses, their unsatisfactory sex lives, and the possibility of looking elsewhere for a mutually satisfying tryst. 10K, which the playwright himself directs, makes for an interesting study of two people who are playing with fire. This is especially true of the woman, who reveals she has left her two-year-old daughter home alone (and not for the first time) while she is out for her run.

Play Number 2, Vickie Ramirez's smart and engaging Glenburn 12 WP, directed by Kel Haney, also features a woman and a man in a situation that looks like it could very well lead to their linking up. As the play opens, the man, a young African American named Troy (W. Trey Davis), is sitting at a bar, waiting for the bartender to show up. In comes Roberta (Tanis Parenteau), who appears to be a slightly older white businesswoman. She takes a seat at the other end of the bar, and the two glance at one another. Roberta strikes up a teasing, flirty conversation, and then—in the absence of the bartender—she takes it on herself to go behind the bar, hands Troy a beer, and pours herself a whiskey.

Troy is clearly uncomfortable with the situation and the potential for his being implicated, as a black man, both for taking a beer without paying for it, and for being seen in anything resembling a compromising position with Roberta. As they continue to talk, however, the conversation moves into unexpected directions that delve into matters of racism, stereotypes, and the assumptions we make about one another, all leading to a surprising confession at the end.

The evening closes with a sweet piece about three 9/11 widows who get together annually on the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, where their husbands lost their lives. The play, The Sentinels, written by Matthew Lopez and directed by Stephen Brackett, takes place in a café where the women (Meg Gibson, Michelle Beck, and Kellie Overbey) meet up. The play is written in short scenes that go back in time, from the tenth anniversary to one year prior to the attack (skipping the terrible event of 2001 itself). We get to see how each of the three deals with grief over the course of time, and the play ends in the year 2000 at Windows on the World Restaurant, where the women's black mourning attire morphs into chic little black dresses as they gather for a celebratory event.

Solid performances make each of the plays well worth the visit, although a collective common theme would have been a good idea for linking them. Of the three, Glenburn 12 WP is the most original, with clever dialog and an unpredictable storyline that make it the standout.

Summer Shorts 2015, Series A
Through August 28
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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