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Summer Shorts Series A

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 31, 2016

Chinaza Uche and Kerry Warren
Photo by Carol Rosegg

The process of creating short form plays, running under 30 minutes, is as difficult to master as the short story. You've got to create interesting characters, place them in some defined setting, establish a plot and conflict, and contextualize everything through a clear theme or purpose. For the past decade, amidst all the various New York summer theater festivals, 59E59 has been celebrating these compact works in a program called Summer Shorts. Opening today, Summer Shorts Series A offers up three such works, with the only thing in common apart from their brevity being the decidedly non-summery motif of death.

The first of these, and the most fully realized, is a small bijou of a work, Cusi Cram's The Helpers. Jane (Maggie Burke) and Nate (David Deblinger) are a retired psychiatrist and her former patient, a man who abruptly stopped attending their therapy sessions after 15 years. This sudden and unexplained break, coupled with some personal issues in Jane's life, has upset her considerably. But now, at Nate's request, she has reluctantly agreed to meet with him on a chilly winter day in the neutral territory of a West Village park. Their conversation begins icily on her part and clumsily on his, but over the course of this bittersweet comedy, a different sort of relationship begins to develop. Thanks to smart and often funny dialog and bang-up performances by the players (Jessi D. Hill directs), the play is a touching charmer in every way.

While death (of a spouse, of a beloved pet, of a marriage) figures peripherally into the plot of The Helpers, it attains a more prominent presence as the evening progresses. The second piece is by Neil LaBute, a frequent contributor of short plays as well as his more well-known longer works such as Broadway's reasons to be pretty. In the new play, titled After the Wedding and directed by Maria Mileaf, a young couple (Frank Harts and Elizabeth Masucci) are sitting apart on the stage, addressing the audience as if we were their confidant, or perhaps their marriage counselor. The general tone at first is that of a light domestic comedy. The pair has been married for five (or is it six?) years, and now they are talking (though never to one another) about the strengths and tiny cracks in their relationship. It's all lightweight stuff, until we learn about an incident that occurred while they were on the road heading to their honeymoon at a beach house on Long Island. The story is disturbing and involves more than one death. And while the couple was not directly responsible for the incident, we know the way they handled things will eat at them for the rest of their lives.

The final play, A. Rey Pamatmat's This Is How It Ends, is a fanciful consideration of the very last day of life on earth and features appearances by the Antichrist (Kerry Warren) and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Sathya Sridharan as Pestilence; Rosa Gilmore as Famine; Patrick Cummings as War; and Nadine Malouf as Death.) The only human is Jake (Chinaza Uche), who happens to be the roommate of the Antichrist, someone he knows as "Annie." The play itself is a call to embrace living until the very end, and raises the profoundly existential question: What becomes of Death when there is no more life? Under the direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, the cast members throw themselves into their absurdist and wackily comic roles, but the play is too over-the-top to find its footing.

Together, the three works provide an interesting foray into the world of the short form play, with a total running time of 80 minutes. One will make you smile wistfully; one is likely to disturb; and one will possibly leave you scratching your head. On August 7, three additional pieces will be introduced into the mix as Series B opens, and the two sets of plays will be offered on a rotating schedule through September 3.

Summer Shorts Series A
Through September 3
59E59 Theater B, 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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