By David Walters
It’s a funny thing, live theater. People on a stage pretending something they’re not. People in the audience pretending that what those on the stage are pretending is real. We come together wanting to go on the ride of the play. All of this conceived by someone sitting alone in a room hoping that someone out there might be interested in what they have to say.
The collection of three one-act plays (Series A) at 59E59, produced by Throughline Artists, is a grouping with a theme of predators (consciously curated?), the different ways that people get manipulated and frequently how bad we are to each other. The predator discussion is something prominent in our culture currently and ties these pieces together in a complex way.
In series A, you’ll go inside a playwright’s mind to find that there’s not really much there; hang out in a bar with pre-President Trump democrats thinking they know what’s right for the world, but don’t know what’s right for themselves; and take a bumpy flight into a storm of emotional and sexual manipulation.
THE LIVING ROOM, written and directed by Robert O’Hara, is an attempt at creating catharsis out of the hurdles of writing and the confusion of the characters that come to life in a playwright’s mind. He toys with them, what they say, what they do and keeps trying to manipulate them into full-fledged life. The characters (Kate Buddeke and Joel Reuben Ganz), both white, wonder why they are stuck in the mind of a black playwright and make halfhearted attempts to get out. They have little recognition of a life before, out in the world, and are only completely cognizant when they became part of the living room of the mind.
KENNY’S TAVERN, written by Abby Rosebrock and directed by Jess Chayes, lets us into the back outdoor garden of a local North Carolina tavern where we get to share the messed up, intertwined machinations of unvirtuous, unrequited love between two faculty members of a local magnet high school. The wonderful writing lets the backstory unfold slowly through behavior and not exposition. The actors, Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, Stephen Guarino, and Mariah Lee work wonderfully together as a fluid ensemble.
GROUNDED, by Chris Bohjalian (the NYT bestselling author in his playwrighting debut) (directed by Alexander Dinelaris), shows that his well-honed craft is very translatable to the stage. His writing exhibits a depth of experience, and just as the actors were belted to their seats and buckled in due to air turbulence, the audience experienced the same glue on their seats, watching and listening to the emotional turbulence of the characters.
The story, a young flight attendant (Grace Experience) reveals to an older, wiser, more experienced co-worker (K.K. Glick) the fears and pains that define her life. The question that gets raised, which caused my companion and I to talk as we left the theater, is it right to inflict pain on collateral innocents in order to rectify and expunge a wrong that has been inflicted? Or, more simply put, is it selfish to screw up other people’s lives just so I can get my own revenge? (We both voted yes, but do it anyway.)
Go for the fluid acting in some of the pieces. Go for the depth of writing that you’ll hear from good playwrights. Go to challenge your own morality.
Playwrights, us out here are interested in what these Summer Shorts have to say.
SUMMER SHORTS 2018 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) begins on July 20 and runs through September 1. Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 PM; Saturday & Sunday at 2:15 PM and 7:15 PM. There are no matinee performances on Saturday, July 28. Single tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). A Pair of Shorts (a ticket package to both Series A & B, available through August 15) is $55. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.
The design team includes Rebecca Lord-Surratt (set design); Greg MacPherson (lighting design); Amy Sutton (costume design); Nick Moore (sound design/composer); and Joshua Langman (projection design).