By Tulis McCall
Three one acts, each with its own twist that sets it off kilter have been transported to The Big Apple direct from the Actors Studio of St, Louis. This is a tepid bit of business, and not what I expected from a LaBute New Theatre Festival.
The first and most compelling play is by LaBute.
Hate Crime is the story of two men in love, or at least lust. Spencer Sickmann is Man 1. Engaged and befuddled. Chauncy Thomas is Man 2. The Alpha male spinning a web and pretending to be in charge. The two have hatched a plan to take down an innocent man. How they met, who they are, where they are – all the normal sorts of questions necessary to a good story – is never revealed. LaBute places us in the center of the story, in the eye of the storm where the final hook embedded and the rest is left to unravel. LaBute lets his language and its rhythms guide us along. The plot is woven syllable by syllable, stroke by stroke. We cannot bear to watch. We cannot turn away.
Winter Break by James Haigney is the over written story of a college student (Kelly Schaschl) named Joanna (or Aisha depending on who is calling her) who is packing for a trip on winter break. Her trip, however, is not up to Vermont to share a chalet with the girls. No, this gal is off to study with Sufis in the Middle East. The entire scene takes place in her bedroom where her brother Bailey (Spencer Sickmann) and her mother Kitty (Autumn Dornfeld) try to talk her out of going. The conversation consists of your run of the mill proselytizing. “The Sufis are Muslims” vs. “That is better than having no religion the way this family does in reality.” “The Muslims are bad.” vs. “This is the most beautiful experience Aisha has ever had in her life”. “The bad people will brain wash Aisha and keep her from coming home/” vs “It’s just Winter Break”. Etc., etc., etc. The writing here is contrived and never scratches the surface of any character. After awhile you just want Aisha to stop talking and get out of Dodge.
The final play Percentage America by Carter W. Lewis almost succeeds, and actually comes close to convincing us it has done so. The set up is an Internet date where two people confess their disappointment in life and each other. Arial (Autumn Dornfeld) rents a house as opposed to living ina Pent House. Andre (Chauncy Thomas) is a Pharmacist not a doctoral candidate. Honesty becomes a turn on, and Arial suggests foreplay in the form of a detective game. Andrew is down for that. The idea is to find a news story worthy of deconstructing and then compare the various iterations of its reporting. After this they will sleuth for verified clues until they find the real story hidden under the news cycle. What they suss out is heartbreaking, but the way in which they turn the clues into facts is missing a few too many lily pads.
As I said, these are able actors, but they are hindered in some cases by the scripts which make them work too hard; in other cases by John Pierson’s direction which is unimaginative – the action is stilted and the actors’ shining moments are random and disconnected. The cast may also be hindered by the set. This space (Theatre C) is always a challenge because of its size, but in this case Patrick Huber’s set dwarfs the playing area. It is a tight squeeze that seems to take precedence over just about everything. Including the audience.
Full disclosure – many people in the audience were moved to standing up and cheering at the end of the evening. And there you have it.
LaBUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL – written by Neil LaBute, James Haigney, and Carter W. Lewis, and directed by John Pierson.
WITH Autumn Dornfeld; Kelly Schaschl; Spencer Sickmann; and Chauncy Thomas
Patrick Huber (scenic design); Jonathan Zelezniak (lighting design); and Carla Evans (costume and prop design). The Production Stage Manager is Seth Pyatt.
New York, New York December 18, 2017—59E59 Theaters (Val Day, Artistic Director;
Brian Beirne, Managing Director) welcomes the return of St. Louis Actors’ Studio with
the LaBUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL, for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 4.
The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM; and Sunday at 2:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25 – $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket
Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.