by Ed Malin · June 17, 2015
Kana Hatakeyama, Shiori Ichikawa, Yurika Ohno, Sasha Diamond, Jo Mei | Gerry Goodstein
Series C of Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 35th Marathon of One-Act Plays has landed. How much control does the past exert on the future? To find out, come travel around the world in five very different plays.
Devil Music by Angela Hanks, directed by Morgan Gould, takes place in a soon-to-be-no-more record store in that country known as Dallas, Texas. Coworkers and former lovers JJ (Daniel Morgan Shelley) and Geraldine (Crystal Lucas-Perry) are preparing a store actually called Devil Music for a 70% off sale. There are many levels of meaning in everything they say. Did Geraldine really get arrested last night? Why did “Jeri” and “Geri” break up? Who ordered a large batch of Toni Tony Toné singles? Apparently, the demise of the retail music outlet will not make these two very real characters’ shared history go away. The dialogue is beautiful and the acting is very real, but is skillfully matched by what is unspoken.
Good Afternoon by Daniel Reitz, directed by Jules Ochoa, focuses on the isolated lives of people involved in intergenerational seduction. In other words, picture what you would do if your neighbor, Glen (Haskell King) the registered sex offender, came over to introduce himself. Lorrie’s (Kersti Bryan) reaction is somewhat unexpected. But hey, she’s new in town and works from home, so why shouldn’t she invite Glen in for some really good tea? As she listens in the way no one has in a long time, Glen sees she may know a lot about 15 year-old neighborhood girls who flirt with older men. Dare I say, keep an open mind and draw your own conclusions?
The Science of Stars and Fathers and Daughters by Darcy Fowler, directed by Linsay Forman is a wonderful montage of family boating trips. Tom (Michael Cullen) takes young Madelyn (Emma Galvin) out on the lake each year around Memorial Day. It’s their time to talk and to see the stars (powerfully brought to a ceiling near you by lighting designer Josh Langman). Every few minutes, Madelyn is a year older. It’s quite touching to watch her grow up like that. Innocence turns to curiosity, with a modicum of frustration for having to miss a party thrown by girls who probably weren’t her friends anyway. This piece is an endearing greatest hits collection of the human condition.
The Talk by France-Luce Benson, directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke has a few things to say about Haitian immigrant pride. In this beautiful piece previously presented in The Fire This Time Festival, Claire (Sharina Martin) is at home with her mother, Manu (Lizan Mitchell) for some time following the death of her father. Claire has been a few states over and a world away, at Smith, studying Eastern Philosophy. After seven years, she now has a happy life, since, as Manu tells everyone with concern, she has learned to “do yoga”. Being at home is driving Claire crazy, and it comes to a head when Manu wakes her at 3 AM to ask her about the proper use of her new Trinity Deluxe Rabbit Vibrator. When her husband was alive, Manu knew exactly what she must not talk about. Now, she wonders if her worldly daughter (whose ownership of the same model pleasure device naturally inspired this purchase) can guide her in starting over. All involved in this piece are masters at building up tension. But if these characters can learn to listen to each other, perhaps there is hope for the rest of us.
Double Suicide At Ueno Park by Leah Nanako Winkler, directed by John Giampietro intriguingly roasts the Japanese feudal aesthetic of renunciation of the world (see: mono no aware, iki no kôzô, ichiyazuke). The scene is the famous Yoshiwara pleasure quarter of Edo/Tokyo, where, in a world of fixed social status, real men went to find courtesans who were usually poor girls sold off by their families. This rarely-discussed background is given a refreshing post-modern treatment by the unwillingly lovely Akemi (Jo Mei) and Onoe (Sasha Diamond). While three charming ladies who portray cherry trees (Yurika Ohno, Kana Hatakeyama, Shiori Ichikawa) scatter blossoms and recite eerie Japanese poems by men and women who uphold the ideal of self-sacrifice, Akemi and Onoe enthusiastically make plans for the day when they can afford to buy their freedom. All around them, they see others succumbing to disaster; this in a world where blossoms are most beautiful when they are dying. While monks advise that hell is a pit of boiling menstrual blood, the two courtesans can tell each other “you are the best part of my every day.” At least they have each other, but for how much longer? Might it be better to actively give up on life? Along comes an amorous samurai (Don Castro), who stops for hot babes. Is it true that “women are creatures of great difficulty”? Tragedy is not often this funny. Ditto for clever subversion of everything a culture holds dear. Whatever the literature says, men were equally imprisoned by the feudal mentality (see: Saigō Takamori, Enchi Fumiko) and this all leads to the inevitable brilliance of this piece.
EST's Marathon Series C is a hit, I hope you’ll say. This is a bold collection of plays which ask difficult questions and value truth more than shame. Nick Francone’s sets leave space for us to see into things that are often hidden. Suzanne Chesney’s costumes are wonderful, especially the three kyôka-loving cherry trees.