“Summer Shorts 2015” – Series B at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Saturday August 29, 2015)

By Lucy Thurber, Robert O’Hara, and Stella Fawn Ragsdale
Directed by Laura Savia, Robert O’Hara, and Logan Vaughn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Unstuck” – Written by Lucy Thurber and Directed by Laura Savia

The audience does not know exactly how stuck Pete (played with delicious undercurrents of sadness by Alfredo Narcisco) is until his girlfriend Deirdre (played with restorative emotional strength by KK Moggie) comes home and finds Pete sleeping on the couch instead of getting out of the house as he promised to do. Pete blames his procrastination on two birthday visits by his tap-dancing sister Jackie (played with an exquisite clueless and controlling demeanor by Laura Blumenfeld) and his narcissistic friend Sara (played with a zany unbalanced charm by Carmen Zilles) who comes bearing a large cupcake, singing Happy Birthday in two languages, and an endless song/meditation. Although the two visits would exhaust anyone, Pete’s lethargy has been going on for some time.

Despite Jackie’s and Sara’s affirmations that their visits supplied needed surcease for Pete, it is only the honest and transparent conversation with Deirdre that successfully “unsticks” Pete and allows him to begin to move forward. Although this is not a surprising discovery, Lucy Thurber’s script makes the journey to that discovery engaging and restorative of spirit.

Laura Savia tenderly directs this short and gives the actors the opportunity to develop wonderfully well-rounded characters that are believable and that one can care about in all their quirkiness and layered as they are with so many authentic human foibles.

“Built” – Written and Directed by Robert O’Hara

“Built” is the most engaging of the three shorts in Series B and deals with the emotionally charged issue of Registered Sex Offenders who were convicted of child molestation. In this case, Mrs. Back (Merritt Janson) had inappropriate sexual relations with fifteen-year-old Mason (Justin Bernegger) when he was a student in Mrs. Backs’s Social Studies class (in the back of the classroom and in the athletic field bleachers.) In “Built” Mason has been summoned to Mrs. Back’s home ten years later – Mason is now (ostensibly) a twenty-five-year-old sex worker and Mrs. Back has returned to town after her ten year exile looking to re-ignite her delusional affair. Seemingly our Mrs. Back is a fan of illicit sex or is there another reason for the anniversary tryst?

Complicating the story is Mason’s confession that Mrs. Back was not his only faculty tryst – she was only one of several in what Mason describes as a “sex ring.” And it was Mason who reported the incident to his mother which resulted in her arrest and conviction. So was Mason seduced? Was Mrs. Back entrapped then (and perhaps now)? Do those questions even matter since Mrs. Back was the adult? Add to this mix the need for revenge and the result is an engaging, complex, and satisfying short.

Under Robert O’Hara’s appropriately spare direction, Mr. Bernegger and Ms. Janson give this Summer Short a jolt of authenticity and believability. Ms. Janson successfully moves her character between a mousy victim and a sparring partner that has been training for ten years for this event. And Mr. Bernegger brings both of the characteristics of an actor he shares in his biography: he is a superb young physical actor who has already displayed his spiritual commitment to his role and he does this with remarkable kinetic prowess.

“Love Letters to a Dictator” – Written by Stella Fawn Ragsdale and Directed by Logan Vaughn

Ms. Vaughn has staged Stella Fawn Ragsdale’s play with such dogged lethargy that it is difficult to the playwright’s message to be discerned or appreciated. Stella (Colby Minifie) is a needy young woman who has moved to New York City to escape the provincialism (and apparently the judgmental attitudes) of her family, friends, and neighbors in her Tennessee home.

She chooses an intriguing – but not that inappropriate – pen pal with whom to share her concerns and from whom to seek advice. In a somewhat convoluted way, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s former Supreme Leader (until 2011) is the ideal “therapist.” Stella can easily project her fears and suspicions on him and identify with his “problems” as similar to her own. In fact, throughout the course of her correspondence with the “non-judgmental” and “unconditionally loving” dictator, Stella restores the strength of her ego and is able to move on. In her own words in her final letter, she affirms, “I have to be loving. I have to try. I will be home for Christmas. Maybe it will be alright. We’ll see.”

Ms. Minifie is in no way to blame for the sluggishness of this production. She is a gifted actor who, although she understands her character Stella with impeccable exactitude, the director requires her to carry around unwashed vegetables, wash her hands face, and legs, take clothing off and put it back on, and hang up and take down letters, photographs, and dried herbs from two clotheslines throughout the performance. The power of the correspondence is “washed out” by the cumbersomeness of the set and the direction.