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Summer Shorts Series B

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - August 7, 2016

Saverio Tuzzolo and Casandera M. J. Lollar
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Two young women, new college students, are unpacking a few personal belongings in their shared dorm room. Up to now, they have only known each other from their Facebook pages, but they are about to embark on a year of living together in close quarters. Sydney (Francesca Carpanini), who is white, brings touches of her Georgia home: a large package of moon pies, jars of peaches, peanut brittle. And, oh yes, there is that Confederate flag she hangs over her bed, much to the consternation of her African American roommate, Deja (Suzette Azariah Gunn).

That's the setup for Idris Goodwin's Black Flag, the first of three works that make up Summer Shorts Series B, the second half of the tenth anniversary festival of short works at 59E59 Theaters. While the setup itself feels contrived, the play, as directed by Logan Vaughn, does a good job of exploring issues of racial insensitivity, the naivety of a young person going out into the world for the first time, and the meaning we give to symbols. Ms. Gunn is especially effective as the conflicted Deja, wanting to focus on her studies, recognizing the personal (rather than the unintentionally offensive) meaning that Sydney applies to the flag, yet offended nevertheless. Deja is goaded by her Asian American boyfriend (Ruy Iskandar) to be more assertive, but she remains unsure, seeming to understand that you can't impose empathy on someone else. Sydney will have to get there in her own time, as the play's ambiguous ending shows.

The second play, and the most tightly constructed, is Queen, adapted from a Gabriel García Márquez short story by playwright Alexander Dinelaris, a talented wordsmith who authored the musical On Your Feet! and the screenplay for Birdman. Directed by Victor Slezak, this short piece tells the story of a world-weary prostitute (splendidly portrayed by Casandera M. J. Lollar), a regular at a café run by the middle-aged Joe (Saverio Tuzzolo). Every evening at precisely 6 p.m., she shows up for a drink and dinner that Joe, who has long been in love with her, provides at no cost. They have a friendly, bantering relationship, and Joe feels particularly protective of her, even though he has no expectations of anything more. On this particular evening, it is Queen who is looking for something more from Joe, a favor that puts him on the spot. Will he help her, even if it means compromising his seemingly unsullied record of honesty? Like Black Flag, the evening's first play, this one ends ambiguously. But, really, the plot turn is less important than the well-honed portrait of disparate characters who come together through mutual loneliness and need.

After two thought-provoking works, the trio of plays ends with a very silly extended comedy sketch, a spoof of film noir classics like The Big Sleep, itself a convoluted tale of mystery and intrigue. Titled The Dark Clothes of Night and written by Richard Alfredo, the play is filled with puns and sight gags that are often very funny, but it does drag on and eventually outstays its welcome, like a too-long SNL skit. Plenty of laughs along the way, though, and splendidly performed by Dana Watkins, Sinem Meltem Dogan, and James Rees under the madcap direction of Alexander Dinelaris, the playwright who contributes Queen to the series.

Summer Shorts Series B, with a running time of 90 minutes, alternates with the three plays that make up Series A, now through September 3. It's a good way to catch up on a group of pocket works written by a talented and varied group of playwrights.

Summer Shorts Series B
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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