SUMMER SHORTS 2017: Series A

SS2_PlayingGod

Written by Melissa Ross, Alan Zweibel & Graham Moore
Directed by Mimi O'Donnell, Maria Mileaf & Alexander Dinelaris

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Thoughline Artists’ SUMMER SHORTS festival continues to offer an important showcase for actors, directors and writers of short-form theater. As usual, some scripts are more fully realized than others, but the caliber of the acting and the quality of the production remains consistent throughout the evening.

Anyone who’s ever lost a pet will empathize with the protagonists of Melissa Ross’s JACK.  Faced with the sad task of disposing of their beloved dog's remains, Maggie (Claire Karpen) and George (Aaron Roman Weiner in for Quincy Backer-Dunn) agree on a perfect spot: The Union Square dog run where Jack spent some of his happiest afternoons. It sounds simple enough, but as the two ex-spouses prepare to scatter the departed's ashes, old feelings bubble up to the surface. The ink has barely dried on their divorce, and though both are getting on with their lives, the wounds of separation haven't fully healed.  Thanks to Ross’s skillful and compassionate writing and Mimi O’Donnell’s naturalistic direction, a complex portrait of a troubled marriage begins to emerge. We get a glimpse of the chemistry that made George and Maggie a good couple at first, as well as the inertia that eventually pulled them apart. Weiner and Karpen allow themselves to be entirely vulnerable on stage, allowing the comic and poignant beats of the play to flow organically.

PLAYING GOD comically pits a mere mortal against the wrath of the Almighty. Egotistical obstetrician Scott Fisher (Dana Watkins) decides to interfere with the natural birth cycle and hasten the arrival of his Brittany’s (Flora Diaz) baby. He's not doing it out of concern for the patient, he just wants to reschedule the due date so he can dash off to Chile while the skiing is still good. God (Bill Buell) sees this as an encroachment on his territory. As he tells his assistant (Welker White), Fisher “needs a crash course in humility”. Soon, the young doctor finds himself literally playing God– on a squash court in Boca Raton. Assuming he'll trounce the old timer, Fisher is in for a rude awakening. Playwright Alan Zweibel could stand to further explore the comedic possibilities of his premises. But the script does contain its share of grand one liners and even a bit of Shavian discourse on the subject of Science vs. Faith, all of it volleyed with expert comic timing by Buell and Watkins.

Graham Moore's docudrama ACOLYTE takes place in 1954, in the New York apartment where Ayn Rand (Orlagh Cassidy) plays hostess to a couple of her eager young disciples. Recently wed, Barbara (Bronte Englandnelson) and Nathaniel Branden (Sam Lilja) are having some marital difficulties– and not just because he's an Aristotelian, while she favors the teachings Plato. Ayn, of course, capitalizes on the opportunity to preach her own philosophy of rational self-interest. Ayn's husband Frank (Ted Koch) purports to be a Regular Joe with little grasp of all this epistemological mumbo jumbo. In fact, he's more aware than anyone of what his wife is capable of. Loosened by booze and heady rhetoric, Nathaniel confesses that he's been harboring a strong attraction to Ayn, and Ayn admits she wouldn’t kick him out of bed either. Of course, if there's any swinging to be done, it must be handled in true Objectivist style, with all interested parties on the same page. How about it, Barbara? Willing to lend your husband's Johnson to The Cause?  The dramatic tension builds effectively as this rather Albee-esque dynamic threatens to hurtle the characters into uncharted emotional territory. Unfortunately, though, the energy dissipates when Ayn rises from her perch to deliver a lecture on the evils of Liberalism and other social trends. Though the charismatic Cassidy delivers the aria with compelling conviction, the monologue seems out of place. A more interesting option would be to delve deeper in to the character of Nathaniel, who would soon become a noted psychotherapist, and would one day author his own influential and widely-read book. Tellingly, he titled it The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

SUMMER SHORTS continues through September 2, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: https://www.ticketcentral.com/59e59/ Online/ default.asp

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