by Ron Cohen · August 7, 2014
Once considered an endangered species -- like pretty much all of theater -- the one-act play continues well on the mend. At least that’s the conclusion to be drawn from the enthusiastic reaction of a packed audience to a recent showing of the three one-acts making up Series A of Summer Shorts 2014 at 59E59. The onlookers sat quietly enthralled through some passages, laughed boisterously and frequently at others and greeted the final fades with heartfelt applause. It all made for a particularly vibrant night at the playhouse. It also had me thinking that in this era of TV remotes, tweets, You Tube and general ADD, the one-act may prove to be the savior of live theater.
It also helps, of course, that the three plays were deftly written, told interesting stories and were exceptionally well performed.
The Sky and The Limit by Roger Hedden starts out as an entertaining if somewhat wispy barrage of banter between two young guys out hiking. One of them, George, has taken a fall, and as the two wait for him to recover they have fun talking about and mimicking George’s girlfriend and her contentious parents. But there‘s no doubt that George is serious about his girlfriend, and he also feels the desert vista in which the two hikers find themselves would be an ideal setting for the wedding. It’s an idea that his pal, Aldie, mocks, adding to the hilarity of their conversation, but things take a dark and unexpected turn as the play’s first section ends, and a quieter, more spiritual atmosphere prevails in the second section. It makes for an enthralling change of pace, well executed under Billy Hopkins knowing direction. Alex Breaux and Shane Patrick Kearns give engaging, sharply defined characterizations as the two hikers, and Allison Daugherty adds yet more depth to the proceedings when she appears at the mother of George’s girlfriend.
There are still darker dimensions in The Riverbed by Eric Lane, a poignant meditation on almost irreconcilable grief. Adam and Megan have lost their young daughter in an apparent drowning in the river that flows by their home. Her body is yet to be recovered, and the couples’ mourning has drawn them into growing isolation from one another. Lane has the two express this in a series of compelling monologues, in which the pain is quiet but palpable. Finally, though, they are drawn together again by the promise of new life beginning. It’s a compact and moving poem of a play, heightened by Matthew Rauch’s restrained but artful direction and the almost mesmerizing portrayals of Adam Green and Miriam Silverman.
Warren Leight, whose Side Man won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Play, contributes a big basketful of laughs as well as genuine empathy for his characters in his Sec. 310, Row D, Seats 5 and 6. The play concerns three die-hard fans of the New York Knicks, and takes them nimbly through 20 years of alternating in their two season-ticket seats. Some knowledge of the dispiriting history of the basketball team, I think, would add to the enjoyment of Leight’s dialogue, but even without it, it comes across as a highly enjoyable depiction of sports fandom and the ballast it supplies to the ever-changing rigors of life away from the stadium. The three actors, Peter Jacobson, Geoffrey Cantor and Cezar Williams, flawlessly render a trio of beautifully delineated characters, and Fred Berner’s direction provides a rhythm that gives every one of Leight’s masterful laugh lines its due.
All in all, this Series A of Summer Shorts deserves a big A-plus.