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

July 27, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
"Summer Shorts” – Series A at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
By Neil LaBute, Matthew Lopez, and Vickie Ramirez
Directed by Neil LaBute, Kel Haney, and Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“10K” Written and directed by Neil LaBute

In “10 K” a Man (played with a delicious passive coyness by J.J. Kandel) and a Woman (played with an equally delicious aggressive coyness by Clea Alsip) meet at a suburban (“Whispering Pines”) park and decide (after a good stretch) to jog together. Immediately, both disclose the less-than-satisfying natures of their married-with-children statuses. The Woman’s two-year-old is always “underfoot” and she leaves the child at home unattended and her husband “doesn’t listen.” As the pair work up a considerable sweat, the marital ennui becomes playful seduction, the Woman more aggressive than the Man. Their banter includes some odd racist agenda on the part of the Woman which seems to do nothing to advance the plot driven by these characters’ otherwise believable conflicts. Predictably, the heat of the run fires up the possibility of a tryst but both decide to forego that diversion from reality.

There a many double entendres like the Man’s, “Right, but…I mean…people need relief.” And Mr. LaBute’s text skillfully reveals the real motivations of the pair and their impressive reserve of frustration and disappointment. They each desire a new life, a different life, but lack the conviction and the “plan” to achieve that level of freedom. Director LaBute keeps the pace up in this delightful extended metaphor for all the 10Ks humankind runs every day, mostly coping, often compromising, and – for better or worse – “getting back” to their realities with the promise of “meeting again” at the same place and time.

“Glenburn 12 WP” Written by Vickie Ramirez and Directed by Kel Haney

Although Ms. Ramirez’s script requires the reader/audience to confront the important issues of racism, colonialism, and privilege, her characters seem not to be as full developed as they might be to deal with such significant conflicts. Troy Davis a twenty-something African-American man (played with just the right amount of millennial hipster bravado by W. Tre Davis) enters a small Irish pub near Grand Central Terminal. The bartender is not to be found and after assuring the missing barkeep he “is not stealing anything,” Troy settles in to wait to order a beer and is soon joined by Roberta Laforme (played with seductive aggressiveness by Tanis Parenteau) a thirty-something woman who is a member of the Mohawk Nation and an attorney.

Troy flirts with Roberta, and after getting rebuffed, the two engage in a convoluted discussion about race, gender, sex, white privilege, the discontent of the marginalized, and the missing bartender Kieran. Although their conversation raises important and rich questions about the topics raised, it is so clearly intended to set the stage for Robert’s unexpected revelation about her two visits to the bar and the reason for Kieran’s absence that it becomes forced and uninteresting.

Why Troy is not participating in the “protests” and why Roberta has returned to the bar and why Kieran is missing is all answered in Ms. Ramirez’s “Glenburn 12 WP.” The question to be answered is whether the 30 minute discourse (although it is key to the mystery) is enough of a reason to wait for the shocking solutions or why Roberta askes Troy to call the police.

“The Sentinels” Written by Matthew Lopez and Directed by Stephen Brackett

Matthew Lopez’s short is the best of the three in Series A and deals with the important process of grieving and bereavement. As the thanatologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross affirmed in her ground-breaking writings on the stages of grief, different people grieve differently: some go from denial to acceptance in a year, some stay stuck on bargaining for years. Alice (Meg Gibson), Kelly (Michelle Beck), and Christa (Kellie Overbey) have met on the same day (September 11) at the same place to remember the day the Twin Towers were destroyed by a terrorist attack and their husbands were killed in that attack.

These three women are the self-appointed sentinels who guard the collective memory of those who lost loved ones in the 911 terrorist attack and who preserve memory of the horrific event itself. Matthew Lopez’s remarkable script shows how three disparate women have dealt with grief and bereavement over the ten years after the attack (including the year they choose not to meet). Even more remarkable is how Mr. Lopez chooses to tell this story from 2011 back to the year before the fall of the twin towers when the three women meet their husbands at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Meg Gibson’s Alice is the glue that holds the trio together and assures the continuity of the memorial meetings. She never remarries. Ms. Gibson’s performance is authentic and believable and deeply rooted in her craft. Michele Beck’s Kelly does remarry but remains faithful to the group and its commitment to remember. Kellie Overbey’s Christa needs to get on with her life – move on – and eventually loses interest in the group. Under Stephen Brackett’s meticulous direction, this ensemble cast captures the distinct personalities of three women to deal with grief in unique and authentic ways. Zuzanna Szadkowski shines as the waitress at the restaurant where the women meet.