by Tulis McCall
With an annual festival like this – created by Throughline Artists – you get a lot of bang for your buck without having to schlepp all over town.
SERIES A was already reviewed on this site by Kakthlen Campion.
Series B just opened, and all three are worth productions: Unstuck by Lucy Thurber, Built by Robert O’Hara and Love Letters To A Dictator by Stella Fawn Ragsdale.
Unstuck is the story of a man fretted over by well meaning women on his birthday. Built is a crafty piece that takes us down a few sinister roads before delivering a surprise all its own. Love Letters is a winsome end elegant monologue.
In Unstuck Pete (Alfredo Narcisco) is, well stuck. He is at home on his birthday, probably wanting a little privacy, but instead is visited by three women. His sister Jackie (Lauren Blumenfeld) is a misfit looking for a fit. She is studying tap dance, at which she does not excel, as a way of making herself stronger. With each humiliating day she is becoming a warrior, and it is this spirit that she wants to demonstrate and pass on to her brother the couch potato. It is a noble effort that lands flat. Jackie is followed by Sarah who is a friend of undetermined origin and who, like Jackie, has a gift to pass on to Pete. What this gift is we never discover because its identity is drowned by Sarah’s narcissism. Her words are do self referential that they fail to connect with either Pete or us. Finally Pete’s wife Deidre (KK Moggie) comes home, all set for a night out with her husband on his birthday, She is not surprised but admits to frustration that he has spent another day at home and is not ready to go outside. Pete tells her that life has reached stasis. Loving her he pretty much has everything he wants so why bother? He is invisible and that terrifies him. In the end it is Deidre who opens Pete up, but it took a long time to get there. Mr. Narcisco could have used stronger directorial choices for a character who is in reaction mode nearly all the time. The lack of variety of emotions and/or build to his day was a letdown. This could be a very funny piece if given a chance.
Built brings us into the world of child molestation with a twist. The convicted predator is a woman, Mrs. Back (Merritt Janson) who is calling upon the sexual favors of a young man with whom she had an encounter when he was a boy. The dialogue is spare and the action intense. Ms. Janson treads a fine line of vulnerability and self preservation quite well. As Mason, Justin Bernegger is less successful when he digs in to one point of view and never budges. In addition, the script enters some very grey areas in terms of what happened to who and in which order. The well intentioned writing gives us factual inconsistencies that muddy the water instead of revealing a story. Bravo for the effort, but a fact check here and there is in order.
Love Letters To A Dictator is the final selection of the evening and it is worth the wait. A young woman working on a farm in the Hudson Valley takes it into her head to send a letter to Kim Jong Il who was running North Korea at the time. The year is 2011 and Stella Fawn Ragsdale (Colby Minifie) reaches out her hand across the ocean to inquire about the welfare of this dictator. She tells him I am not just and American. I ‘m of the superior southern variety. I’m from the same state as Elvis. I know you are a fan of him. We’re practically related. Hook threaded, pole snapped back and fishing line let out. The bait is taken. Soon the two are writing back and forth. We never hear Kim’s letters, but instead are treated to a responsive weaving by our Ms. Ragsdale. Through some terrific writing we understand what he sends and listen to her posit over her next response. She was originally compelled by a picture of him which made him look lonely, she tells him. She also notices he doesn’t smile and thinks it might help people not to be do afraid of him. As they compare notes – he on running the country and she on running away from her family in Tennessee – we see two people gently rocking in the same rowboat. They send each other encouragement as well as criticism. They are two kids on a playground, not a dictator and a misplaced southerner. The correspondence continues for months, and it is one of those magical pieces of theatre that plucks two characters out of the lineup and places them on a stage for us to savor. No extra anything needed. They are fully formed and very much alive. Bravo.
Produced by Throughline Artists (J.J. Kandel, Producing Director), SUMMER SHORTS is at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).
SUMMER SHORTS begins performances on Friday, July 17 and runs through Saturday, August 29. The general performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM, Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. Please note, there are no performances on Saturday, July 18 & July 25 at 2:15 PM and Sunday, July 19 at 3:15 PM. For individual performance dates for Series A and Series B, download the calendar. Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). A Pair of Shorts (a ticket to both Series A & B) is $40 (available until August 12). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.