by Jason Rost on 8.8.14
Will Dagger and Henny Russell in Napoleon in Exile. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Series B is the highlight of the summer shorts festival with some suspenseful and thoughtful new writing.
Throughline Artists continues their eighth annual Summer Shorts series at 59e59 Theaters with Series B of the new American short play festival. The three plays in this series run in rep with Series A. In this bill the plays are penned by Albert Innaurato, Daniel Reitz, and Neil LaBute (back for his fourth year in a row). Series A consisted of three short plays, each a mixed success. In contrast Series B is made up of two captivating and deeply human pieces, and one screwball comedy that completely misses the mark. Still, two out of three makes for a worthwhile stimulating evening of theater.
The highlight of the entire festival for my part is Reitz’s poignant Napoleon in Exile directed with exceptional nuance by Paul Schnee. Will Dagger plays Corey in an extraordinarily sympathetic portrayal of a 25-year-old man on the autism spectrum forced to consider life without his mother. Henny Russell strongly plays the role of a mother confronting her man-child son about the likelihood of her losing a battle with cancer. Reitz peppers the piece with the perfect mix of humor and truth with some fantastic dialogue suited to Dagger and Russell’s intimate interplay on stage. While heartbreaking and witty, the piece also highlights the added challenge technology and virtual realities have on the development of socially handicapped individuals.
LaBute’s play The Mulberry Bush ends the first act of the evening. It’s a textbook example of crafting a short play in building suspense and intrigue before revealing the conflict. Kip (J.J. Kandel) oddly approaches Bill (Victor Slezak) who is having his quiet lunch on a park bench. Their conversation about ice cream sprinkles is initially strange if not forced by Kip. LaBute manipulates the dialogue in such a way that you are absorbed further into the situation without truly knowing why until Kip reveals his intentions. Kandel is exacting in his method of attack while Slezak exhibits amazing empathy for a character that could be purely vile. Maria Mileaf directs this two-hander with wonderful restraint and timing.
After an intermission the evening rounds out with Albert Innaurato’s farcical misguided folly of Catholicism. Titled Doubtless, it is seemingly meant to be a riff on John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt. However, it is more a collection of outdated jokes attacking the Catholic Church that are not all that funny or sharp. The Mother Superior and sister (Tasha Guevara and Brenda Currin) are lesbian lovers plotting their escape from the convent, but have to bide their time while the priest orgy occurs in the other room and vampire Jesus demands closure to their relationship. That summary is more absurdly comical than Innaurato’s safe and untidy approach. Jack Hofsiss’ direction doesn’t help by keeping the pace too sluggish and restrained for even a bit of real craziness to ensue on stage.
(Summer Shorts 2014: Series B plays at 59E59 Theater, 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, through August 30, 2014. Performances are in rep with Series A on Tuesdays at 7:15PM; Wednesdays at 7:15PM; Thursdays at 7:15PM; Fridays at 8:15PM; Saturdays at 2:15PM and 8:15PM; and Sundays at 3:15PM and 7:15PM. Tickets are $25 and are available at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212.279.4200.)