Comparisons may be odious, but an evening of three one act plays, back to back, rather forces the issue.
“The Festival of New American Short Plays, on now, alternates Series A (10K, Glenburn 12 WP, and The Sentinels) with Series B (Built, Love Letters to a Dictator, and Unstuck). So, there are a lot of single shot performances on tap and all ripe for comparison.
Thursday night, the clever folks at Throughline Artists started with their best material, Neil LaBute’s 10K. It is the Goldilocks of one-acts: not too ambitious, not too subtle, but, just right.
Two suburban runners meet, apparently by accident, as they prep for a morning run. They stretch, they talk, they laugh, they share, they flirt, they tease, they come close—and, before the lights go down, they have us hoping for a second act. Clea Alsip (Woman) is disarming and varied as she entices him, flatters him, reaches for him, and finally, reluctantly, retreats. J.J. Kandel (Man) is vulnerable and unsure, interested but wary, flattered by her attention, to be sure, but unsure of himself. You like them, believe them, and you do hope for next steps.
The second selection of Series A suffers from asking way, way too much of a single act. Glenburn 12 WP puts its two characters in a deserted Irish bar near Grand Central. Playwright Vickie Ramirez makes the young man Black and the woman Native American. They meet, they squabble, they set ground rules, they push back a bit. They play a drinking game that brings who they are to the fore. He’s a scientist. She’s a lawyer but—we discover—something darker as well. And that’s where this one goes off the rails. The man and the woman in the bar are well on the way to building a glorious one-act. The characters grow and reveal themselves as they put away their cudgels. Regrettably, the “find an ending” scene study gambit that closes the drama out is, well, absurd. But before that? Fun.
The last of the one acts, The Sentinels, is hard to like. Three women in black meet year after year—more to the point, year after year after 2001. (A rather ham-handed calender device rolls back from 2010 to keep us cued.) They are the Cantor Fitzgerald widows, the women who’s husbands died at trading desks in the towers. They meet every year in a coffee shop ‘up the street’ from the hushed public ceremony at Ground Zero. They are written as tragic creatures. But the real tragedy still looms so large, and is so present in our streets, that it’s hard to capture any of its integral pain on this modest stage.
It may be that playwrights have to leave this alone for a while longer; failing that, they must up their game. The only genuine moment in this piece predates Sept 11: In the last scene, the three not-yet widows await their husbands arrival at a corporate party at “Windows on the World.” Staring out from the stage, they marvel at the celestial views, the dazzle, the look-down-on-clouds wonder of those heady heights. They are still innocent— as we all were. This part works. The rest? It may play in Peoria, but not here, not yet.
Summer Shorts (Series A)
10K – Written and directed by Neil LaBute.
WITH: J.J. Kandel (Man) and Clea Alsip (Woman).
Glenburn 12 WP – By Vickie Ramirez; directed by Kel Haney
WITH: W. Tre Davis (Troy) and Tanis Parenteau (Roberta).
The Sentinels – By Matthew Lopez; directed by Stephen Brackett.
WITH: Meg Gibson (Alice), Michelle Beck (Kelly), Kellie Overbey (Christa) and Zuzanna Szadkowski (waitress).
Rebecca Lord-Surratt designed the sets, Dede Ayite did the costumes. Greg Macpherson handled lighting and Nick Moore the sound. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Manhattan: (212) 279-4200, through August 29th.