By Donna Herman
The one-act play has long been a favorite form of both novice and seasoned playwrights. Tennessee Williams wrote 43 of them over the course of his 50 year career. Begun in 1977, this season is Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays. This year’s 15 selections are broken up into 3 evenings of 5 plays each, that are running in repertory from May 14th through June 30th. Reviews of Series A can be found here, and Series B can be found here.
The first offering in the Series C evening, Female Beginner by Edith Freni, takes place in the South on the evening of a big fundraising dinner for a hometown political candidate. Amelia (Sara Hymes) is getting ready for the event while practicing her speech. When she stops to clear her throat, her Father (Rufus Collins), the candidate, prompts her to continue from off stage where he’s getting ready. He doesn’t want her to stop, sip water, or show anything that could be construed as a weakness. But Amelia proves that she’s anything but, when she uses the threat of exposing family secrets in her speech to get him to agree to things on her terms. Unfortunately, Sarah Hymes’ Amelia was a little like a bull in a china shop. We got the strength needed for an 18-year old to defy her father, but not the charming, manipulative cunning it would take to maneuver the situation to that point where he would have no choice but to capitulate.
Santa Doesn’t Come to the Holiday Inn by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder and directed by Julie Kramer is a slice of life moment with absolutely no point of view, and no action. I couldn’t figure out why Ms. Wilder felt compelled to tell the non-tale, and clearly, no one else involved was very invested. Set in a hotel room on Christmas Eve, Peter (Eddie Boroevich) & Annie (Allison Jean White), who are divorced, have come together with their daughter (who is asleep during the whole play) to spend Christmas together. When they split, they promised that they wouldn’t create a broken holiday syndrome for their child and would always spend it together. Peter doesn’t mind, but Annie is clearly not happy. They wrap a few presents, he tries to jolly her out of her mood but she’s having none of it, and then they go to sleep. End of story. There was no energy on stage, it was almost as if two strangers were in a room together. They didn’t seem to know why they were together, and for certain, nor did the audience.
Ironically, Intensive Care, by Donald Marcus, directed by Jamie Richards, was about two strangers who meet in a hospital cafeteria late at night. But these strangers connect immediately and profoundly. When the play opens, George Hutchinson (Eric Conger), a white-haired, dapper gentleman in a button down shirt, khakis and boat shoes with no socks and a Ralph Lauren windbreaker, is sitting drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup. Joe Barolo (Zach Grenier), a stocky, grey-haired man, with the map of Italy on his face, dressed in inexpensive but decent clothes, carrying a gym bag, comes in and sits at the table next to him. Although they are clearly from two different worlds, they begin talking in that intense and confessional atmosphere of a hospital late at night. They find points of contact going back through their lives that flow, unfortunately, into the present. Joe’s wife Anna is in surgery as they speak, and he tells George, who has been checking his watch, to go up and see his wife. It turns out that George’s wife died 36 minutes ago and he’s waiting for his daughter to pick him up. Both men end up sharing things with each other that they haven’t shared with anyone else. As George says “Emotion doesn’t play so well at the yacht club.” Intensive Care is a perfect little gem of a one-act play. Beautifully written, sensitively directed, with delicious acting by Grenier and Conger.
The Good Muslim by Zakiyyah Alexander is ambitious and overly complicated. Weaving two stories, one of which turns out to be an interactive fictional game, it was disjointed and confusing to follow. Which is too bad. The “real” story, about a young Turkish-American woman, Aliah (Lily Balsen) who is in college and happens to be Muslim, is compelling and well written. And when that story is being played out, it is taut and riveting. However, the gaming character story of a guy who cheats on his girlfriend of 6 months, is not relevant in any way to Aliyah’s story and is simply a distraction. If that were cut out, you’d have a taut and timely piece about what it’s like to be a young Muslim in this country right now.
The final one-act of the Series C evening is as forced and unwieldy as its title, Good Results Are Difficult When Indifference Predominates by Amy Fox. Phew. Amber (Caroline Hewitt) and Lila (Melanie Nicholls-King) are cousins. Amber is one of life’s quiet, watch from the sidelines type while Lila is the front-lines, in your face, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is doer. Amber is content to contribute to the cause by knitting pink pussy hats. Lila is marching and wants Amber at her side, and is doing her best to convince her when the 1950’s clad apparition of either their grandmother or the author of the Singer Sewing machine instructions, Mary Jane Picken (Helen Coxe), appears. She proceeds to quote from the instructions, which direct ladies to be caught up with their chores and dressed nicely in order to be in the right frame of mind for sewing because….yes…..”good results are difficult when indifference predominates.” Whereupon Amber loses her s**t, and moves into Lila’s camp screaming and ranting about being raped and oppressed by expectations. The rant is forced and disproportionate to the funny and antiquated nonsense spouted by the apparition.
Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays, Series C:
Female Beginner, written by Edith Freni, directed by Jessica Holt, starring Rufus Collins and Sara Hymes.
Santa Doesn’t Come to the Holiday Inn, written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, directed by Julie Kramer, starring Eddie Boroevich, Allison Jean White, Isabel Harper Leight, Grace Selvers & Alexa Swinton.
Intensive Care, written by Donald Marcus, directed by Jamie Richards, starring Eric Conger and Zach Grenier.
The Good Muslim, written by Zakiyyah Alexander, directed by William Carden, starring, Lily Balsen, Rajesh Bose, Paul-Emile Cendron, David Garelik, Susan Heyward, Jenny Leona, and Pooya Mohseni.
Good Results Are Difficult When Indifference Predominates, written by Amy Fox and directed by Morgan Gould, starring Helen Coxe, Caroline Hewitt, and Melanie Nicholls-King.
Scenic Design by Jason Adizzone-West; Costume Design by Audrey Nauman; Lighting Design by Greg Macpherson; Sound Design by Emily Auciello; Production Stage Manager, Eileen Lalley. Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Radio Drama Network. Performances of the Marathon, Series A through June 5th; Series B May 28th through June 26th; Series C June 10th through June 30th. For tickets visit: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/134