By Neil LaBute, Vickie Ramirez, and Matthew Lopez
Directed by Neil LaBute, Kel Haney, and Stephen Brackett
Produced by Throughline Artists
Off Broadway, New Short Plays
Runs through 8.28.15
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 7.27.15
Meg Gibson, Kellie Overbey and Michelle Beck in The Sentinels. Photo by Carol Rosegg
BOTTOM LINE: A fun, intelligent, and moving compilation of three short plays by Neil LaBute, Vickie Ramirez, and Matthew Lopez.
I love short plays. They’re a low commitment, limited liability way of exploring an idea without getting stuck if the exploration goes awry or has inadequate intrigue. The plays in the Series A collection of Summer Shorts 2015 are stimulating, entertaining, and even heart-wrenching.
The line-up begins with Neil LaBute’s 10K, a very simple but clever play about a man (J.J. Kandel), and a woman (Clea Alsip), both married, but obviously attracted to one another. They start a casual conversation while stretching before their daily run. They exercise together, keeping each other company, as they suss out whether running will be the only physical activity they will share.
10K is a hilarious and inviting way to kick off the evening. Directed by LaBute himself, the piece is something of a departure from his characters’ usual irredeemable behavior. This duo might not exercise the best judgment, but their mistakes are reasonable for basically good people like your friends and neighbors (sorry about that) to make. But what makes 10K so clever is that the plot is almost never explicitly discussed. This is a play that lives in subtext. The dialogue and brilliant performances by Kandel and Alsip create a delightful spontaneity that never fails to entertain and thrill.
Next up is Glenburn 12 WP by Vickie Ramirez, by far the most plot-driven and timely piece of the night. Instead of attending a protest against racially-driven police brutality, Troy (W. Tre Davis) finds sanctuary in a quiet bar where he meets Roberta (Tanis Parenteau). After growing tired of waiting for the absent bartender, Roberta encourages Troy to help himself as she trespasses behind the bar to pour her own scotch, while placing large bills on the counter. Troy refuses to join her knowing that, as a young black man, he is likely to be accused of stealing. But as the play progresses, Troy learns that he is being implicated in crimes way more heinous than taking liberties with a bottle of scotch.
Directed by Kel Haney, the play begins as a clever, and even subtle, comment on the benefit of the doubt that whites enjoy and the burden that blacks carry to constantly demonstrate honesty and respectability. Davis and Parenteau introduce their characters with charm and intrigue, so spending 20 minutes in bar with them is enjoyable. However, Ramirez’s attempt to infuse this simple play with drama is transparent, and by the end, it feels like a forced construction designed to explore themes that she finds pressing and topical. If you like plays that address the here and now, I’m sure you’ll appreciate Glenburn 12 WP, but the playwright’s blatant agenda prevented me from fully enjoying this piece.
My favorite play in the line-up was The Sentinels by Matthew Lopez, a heart-wrenching piece that treads lightly, but packs the hardest punch. The play begins in a café in the year 2011, where two women (Meg Gibson and Michelle Beck) meet to mourn the deaths of their husbands. This is an annual meeting that used to include a third woman (Kellie Overbey). In each scene we visit the same meeting, one year prior. As we work our way backward through the first decade of the millennium, we discover the tragic event that claimed the lives of all three husbands.
This play had no ax to grind, but simply and beautifully captured the slow and painstaking process of grief and healing. The play’s infamous, inciting incident is never mentioned, and yet the audience inevitably figures it out. When I did, I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my face. This piece, directed by Stephen Brackett, is art at its very best.
The acting and directing in all three offerings is obviously the work of consummate professionals. The set design, by Rebecca Lord-Surratt, is necessarily simple in order to accommodate fast transitions, but is equally effective in fully realizing all three plays. Like most summer fare, these three plays are fun and simple, but they are also intelligent, offering nourishment for the mind as well as the soul.
(Summer Shorts 2015: Series A plays at 59E59 Theater, 59 East 59th Street, through August 28, 2015. Performances are 8/1 at 2:15, 8/2 at 7:15, 8/4 at 7:15, 8/5 at 7:15, 8/8 at 8:15, 8/9 at 3:15, 8/10 at 7:15, 8/14 at 8:15, 8/15 at 2:15, 8/18 at 7:15, 8/19 at 7:15, 8/22 at 8:15, 8/23 at 3:15 and 7:15, 8/27 at 7:15, and 8/28 at 8:15. Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members) and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 212.279.4200.)