By Holli Harms
It’s back! Ensemble Studio Theater’s Marathon of One-Act Plays. Shut down, like the rest of the world, for far too long, in-person theater is happening once again on the edge of 52nd street and the Hudson. The Marathon of one-acts is EST’s cornerstone. EST was founded in 1968 by Curt Dempster on the idea that one acts have a special place in the theater and should be celebrated. This is EST’s 38th marathon series and this one is special not only for coming back after the forced hiatus but particularly because this is the first time that the entire Marathon, both Series A and Series B, is featuring plays written by BIPOC artists.
Series A starts off with Dominic Colón’s PROSPECT AVE OR THE MISEDUCATION OF JUNI RODRIGUEZ. Set on a subway car heading downtown two young men meet and discover the meaning of life and love and possibly more. The dialogue is fast furious banter turning everyday McDonald’s fries and burgers and frosty shakes into a scientific means to happiness and love. The two leads Justin Rodriguez and Ed Ventura are throwing the quick lines of dialogue out like fast food recipes and are flying from the beginning, referencing their 21st-century youth: fast food, social media, phones. A great way to start the evening.
Cusi Cram’s LOS COMPLICADOS is a contemplative moment between family members, in of all places a bathtub in a bathroom. Manca (Daniela Gonzalez y Perez) is a 15-year-old girl of mixed-race and god-sister to Pedro (José Espinosa), tries to make sense of who she is to herself and especially who she is to her white mother who does not see that her child sits in a place of the other. Manca went to Ford Model Agency and was turned down by the doyenne herself Eileen Ford because of her ethnicity, or rather her lack of ethnicity. As bi-racial she is not ethnic enough to be exotic and not white enough to be a “classic” beauty. She sits in the middle of it and feels both in all of it and in none of it. The language of her father is not hers, the looks of her mother are not hers, she is not enough of anything. Manca’s god-brother, the very cool, very open older Pedro, is there to lift Manca’s spirits and help her see who she is in her complicated ways. When you are young and someone reaches out to you, it means the world and more.
INTRO TO by Vivian J.O. Barnes is set in a classroom teaching Introduction to Exotic Writing. Slowly, one by one, the three students who have signed up for the class appear. One is a young eager woman, Shanice played with a hilariously rich depth by Denise Manning. Shanice is excited and nervous to be there. Mary (the wonderfully grounded Brenda Crawley), the elder of the three, has brought her knitting and she sits quietly with it, knit-one-purl-two. They wait for their instructor but the only other person to arrive is another student, the highly distracted Kara (played with take no prisoners volume by Cristina Pitter). Slowly, one by one, they read their exotic writings. Here is where the evening rumbles with a storm of words, words concerning the desire for love, and the need for human contact. I dared not move a muscle. I sat watching and listening as Barnes’ words managed to relay Shanice’s want for touch, Kara’s feeling of being lost in her relationship feeling like nobody and nothing, and the amazing turn of our quiet critical Mary from wise elder to conjurer of desire. Barnes manages to turn the items of knitting; needles, and yarn into sexually exotic objects and when needles and yarn are joined by dried spaghetti noodles the stage becomes a ritualistic performance of longing. A masterful moment that had the audience howling with laughter and slapping their hands together.
Shannon Tyo has created a dance movement piece of Older (Jo Yang) and Younger (Catalina Chang) battling out the space in Younger’s bedroom, battling for growth and memory. Chang learns how to face her fears with fists forward. We cheer her on.
STILL… by Harron Atkins ends the evening with a love story of two men and music. It is a beautiful story of falling and losing love. It is a story of how success can create a wall in a relationship but for those whose love has no end, the wall never loses the love, just tucks it away in a safe place. Atkins’ play spans the friendship and love affair of Noah (Deandre Sevon) and Jeremy (Eric. R. Williams) from their first encounter when they are 11 years old (young Noah played by Ethan Joseph and young Jeremy (played by Roudlerson Calvin Pierre) and they meet at a record store and instantly become friends over the music. As teenagers, they create a Youtube blog about music and it is where they fall in love. We then follow them as Noah becomes a major label singer and Jeremy continues to struggle. We start and end with older Noah (Marcus Naylor) and older Jeremy (Mark Vaughn) who discuss what makes good music, dance one last dance together, and show that they never lost their heart completely to anyone else. This is simply a beautiful love story and Sevon and Williams play the depth of their romance with an honesty that had me feeling as if I were a witness to that thing we label TRUE LOVE. It was astonishing and Sevon and Williams’ music a wonderful gift.
Ensemble Studio Theater has always opened its programs with the sentence, “In the spirit of works in progress we present…” Works in progress. EST continues to be a space for writers to take bold vivid risks believing that creating art for the stage is an ongoing process of discovery. Exploration, not perfection is the objective. This Series A is all of that and more. There are more polished works than others but the balance of the evening is not compromised. You will enjoy each new morsel of taste and texture presented to you.
Ensemble Studio Theater’s 38th Marathon of One-Act Plays October 16- November 13, 2022
Creative Team: Co-Artistic Directors: Mike Lew* & Colette Robert* | Production Stage Manager: Ingrid Pierson | Asst. Stage Manager: Brillian Qi-Bell | Scenic Design: Riw Rakkulchon | Lighting Design: Christopher Wong | Costume Design: Isabella Fernandez Rasdal | Props Design: Oscar Escobedo | Sound Design: Caroline Eng
EST’s 38th Marathon of One-Act Plays will celebrate work from artists who identify as Black, Indigenous & People of Color (BIPOC). Two EST Member Artists, director Colette Robert and playwright Mike Lew, are serving as Co-Artistic Directors, and have curated a lineup of 11 new short plays written by BIPOC playwrights. This year’s festival will feature ten plays to be presented across two series from October to November, with an additional play available for online streaming.
Tickets For Series A HERE
Tickets for Series B HERE
SERIES A and B continue through November 13. Running Time 2 hours 15 minutes with intermission
PROSPECT AVE OR THE MISEDUCATION OF JUNI RODRIGUEZ
written and directed by Dominic Colón
featuring William Jackson Harper, Ashley Marie Ortiz, Justin Rodriguez, & Ed Ventura
written by Cusi Cram, directed by Rebecca Martinez, featuring José Espinosa, & Daniela Gonzalez y Perez
written by Vivian J.O. Barnes, directed by Keenan Tyler Oliphant
featuring Brenda Crawley, Denise Manning, & Cristina Pitter
YOUNGER BATTLES THE POSSIBLE GHOST
written by Shannon Tyo, directed by nicHi douglas
featuring Catalina Chang, & Jo Yang
written by Harron Atkins, directed by Cameron Knight
featuring Ethan Joseph, Marcus Naylor, Roudlerson Calvin Pierre, Deandre Sevon, Mark Vaughn, & Eric R. Williams