By Elise Marenson
The third installment of Author directing Author is entitled POWER, but it could be more specifically called BLACKMAIL, emotional blackmail that is. The premise of this program is three one-act plays by three playwrights who each direct a play written by another. And the direction is strong, each playwright making the most out of a fellow artist’s somewhat mundane material. These are three lugubrious stories with rather unlikable people. Each play has two characters in a power play, in which the dominant person seemingly in charge is one-upped by his/her victim.
The opener is AFTER THE DARK (in translation) by Italian writer Marco Calvani and directed by Marta Buchaca. Young intern Jessie (Gabby Beans) finds herself in a low end hotel room with her boss Susie (Margaret Colin). Both are attending a trade show of interior design. Susie is depressed from fighting irrelevance as a middle aged woman whose decorating business is outmoded and failing, hence not enough money to pay for two hotel rooms. What’s more is her husband hasn’t touched her in years. In a total lapse of dignity, Susie is so lonely that she makes a pass at Jessie who it turns out is one of numerous young trainees to have slept with Susie’s husband. But Jessie has been invited out by the premier editor of a powerful industry magazine and holds that over Susie to demand a hefty raise with advancement. Margaret Colin is heartbreaking as the pathetically aging woman who really wallows in it with an unnecessary closing monologue, indulging herself in thoughts of suicide. Ms. Beans plays a girl without much empathy, some of her anger coming from feeling exploited by her boss. If you are over 40, Ms. Colin’s self-pitying character should make you want to go run around Central Park, get a makeover and start up a new venture.
The second piece is SUMMIT (in translation) by Spanish writer Marta Buchaca and directed by Neil LaBute. Through no fault of Mr. LaBute, this tale was the least interesting, and perhaps something got lost in translation. The outgoing Ex-Mayor (Victor Slezak) of ten years has finished packing up his mayoral office and should have been gone already. In walks the new Mayor (Dahlia Davi), all cocky as the upstart, inexperienced one who overthrew the establishment. She uses social media. She criticizes Ex-Mayor for investing in only well-to-do neighborhoods. She can do better, but she is afraid she won’t like being polite to people she detests. The parallels to our national nightmare are too obvious for me to appreciate on Inauguration Day. Ex-Mayor throws a wrench into her bubble. He has discovered a five-year old tweet she made, a very uncomfortable racial slur that I won’t repeat here. This pivots to a lesson in prudently using social media when one is young, for reckless tweets and posts can come back to bite you in the butt.
The third and most original play, the only one written in English, is Neil LaBute’s I DON’T KNOW WHAT I CAN SAVE YOU FROM, directed by Marco Calvani. Simon (Richard Kind) awaits a flight in an airport where he is visited by his quasi estranged daughter Janie (Gia Crovatin). Simon has been a lousy father, divorced from Janie’s mother amidst a sea of court orders. On his daughter’s visiting weekends, he couldn’t leave his womanizing alone. An unmarried, new mother, Janie arrives with a document thicker than a movie script that she wants her father to sign if he ever hopes to see his grandson. If he breaks any arrangement, any promise, misses a birthday party, gives unsolicited advice, brings his whores around the boy, it will cost him…thousands…with a price for each infraction. The repartee between miscreant father and resentful daughter is hilarious. Mr. LaBute beautifully merges the serio with the comic, and Mr. Kind and Ms. Crovatin execute their gamesmanship with depth and perfect comic timing.
Author directing Author POWER – Written and Directed by Neil LaBute, Marco Calvani, and Marta Buchaca.
WITH: Margaret Colin (Susie), Gabby Beans (Jessie), Victor Slezak (Mayor), Dahlia Davi (Mayor), Richard Kind (Simon), Gia Crovatin (Janie).
Sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Jeff Mahshie; lighting by Alex Jainchill; Assistants to the Directors, Allison Eikerenkoetter & Diego Chiri; stage manager, Miriam Hyfler; assistant stage manager, Ali Keller; fight director, Rick Sordelet; prop master/wardrobe, Jane Catherine Shaw; press representative, Sam Rudy Media Relations; promotion, Valeria Orani Umanism NY. Ellen Stewart Theatre at LaMaMa, 66 East 4th Street between Third and Second Avenues. Tickets are $18 and $13 and can be purchased online at www.lamama.org or by phone at 212 352 3101. Through February 5. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.