Writers: Roger Hedden, Eric Lane, Warren Leight
Directors: Billy Hopkins, Matthew Rauch, Fred Berner
Reviewer: Jonathan Alexandratos
In its eighth year, “Summer Shorts” presents two series (A &B) of one-act plays by playwrights that are, at least, mid-career, if not quite established. This year, comments have been abuzz over the line-up across both series, which includes not one woman, and not one writer of color. While one cannot instantly engage with every decision regarding the selection of plays, one can be disappointed, solely from an audience perspective, that a greater range of voices were not presented. This bland tone, unfortunately, permeated into most, though not all, of the work.
Roger Hedden’s The Sky and the Limit was up first. While featuring an extremely talented bunch of actors (Alex Breaux, Shane Patrick Kearns, and Allison Daugherty), the play’s message never fully manages to land. The piece begins after George (Kearns, playing a guy Richard Linklater might recognize) takes a fall while trying to leap from one mesa to another while hiking. What ensues is a meditation between he and his friend, Aldie (a versatile Breaux), on George’s impending marriage. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, in a transition that can only follow a series of exclamation points. There’s an uncomfortable blackout, which, in this short play, feels like the work’s end. After lights up, Aldie tries to piece together the meaning of it all with the Mother of the Bride (Daugherty, who should’ve had more to do). Most of the interesting action was talked about, never shown, and the women relevant to this marriage felt pushed to the side. What was left was a talk-y play that prompted a gentleman sitting three people down to say, quite audibly, “It’s like watching paint dry.”
Next was Sec. 310, Row D, Seats 5 and 6 by Tony-winner Warren Leight (1999’s wonderful Side Man). Leight, clearly trying to play to his strength as a writer of memory plays, crafts three characters – Roman (Peter Jacobson, memorable for his featured rôle on the TV show House, among others), Eddie (Geoffrey Cantor), and Josh (Cezar Williams) – who recount the peaks and valleys of married life as they meet regularly in Sec. 310, Row D, Seats 5 and 6 to watch season after season of Kincks games. While all three actors are, again, outstanding, there just isn’t enough for them to do here. They meet, they talk about, again, offstage women, and make jokes about basketball players. Most of the time, they’re all tied to their seats, partaking in none of the business that they are, as in the previous play, telling, never showing. Without the presence of a significant issue to tie the superficial importance of basketball to (and the Knicks jokes, which sound straight out of The New York Post), the play falls flat. It might make a decent 5-minute scene on a TV sitcom. Good theatre, though, it isn’t.
The phrase “third time’s the charm” was never proven so well as it is in Summer Shorts Series A. Riverbed, by Eric Lane, is last, and is truly a treat. Here, we meet a couple, Adam (Adam Green) and Megan (Miriam Silverman), heartbroken after the loss of their daughter, Lucy (“Lucy” – what a perfect name, the name of a very old, very important skeleton). If Lane knows how to write an engaging, two-character play (and he does), then his director, Matthew Rauch, knows how to choreograph it. The term “choreograph” must be applied, here, (as opposed to “block”) since every poetic move this couple takes feels like a dance, a dance that couples so well with Lane’s poem of a play. As Adam ruminates on the nature of a Heron, ever trying to blend in with reeds, even if the reeds aren’t there, we are reminded that this is grief. Wanting to blend in, never fully able to. What matters, Adam and Megan show us, is the ability of two grieving bodies to find one another, and then, maybe, quiet the torrent that tears at the tapestry of each’s soul. These characters, in the hands of Green (who beautifully destroys masculine stereotype to highlight the emotional male experience) and Silverman (who is heartbreakingly maternal, even when she thinks she can’t be), take the audience on an emotional walk through the riverbed that is now the deathbed of Lucy. Indeed, at times, the dialogue feels a little too precious, and the characters a little too defined by their parenthood (especially in the case of Megan), but that only speaks to how much is truly there. These characters are three-dimensional, and they leave you wanting to know more about them. The beauty of Lane’s work isn’t to be missed.
As to other elements of the evening: Rebecca Lord-Surratt has constructed a set that brilliantly serves the needs of each play. Her work was truly a highlight, and made each transition miraculously efficient. One feels not an inch of set was wasted. Lighting and sound (Greg MacPherson and Nick Moore) served each piece well, though none required massive light or sound cues. (Or, if they did, it did not feel that way – which is a huge compliment to the designers.)
Were it not for Eric Lane, the evening would have been, well, tough. Still, the qualms of those who protest that, out of six playwrights (across the two series), not one could have been written by a woman or person of color should not be ignored. The Summer Shorts series should continue to grow, and further its efforts to be a voice of truly new, American theatre.
Photo: Carol Rosegg | Runs until 30th August 2014