SUMMER SHORTS 2017: Series B

SS5_BreakPoint

Of the three one acts that comprise Series B, the most confidently delivered is Chris Cragin-Day’s two-hander which probes the subject of women’s role in religion. Kim (Jennifer Ikeda), a successful professor and mother of young children, is dedicated to her egalitarian ideals as well as to her Christian faith. Cliff (Mark Boyett), with whom Kim has been friends since high school, belongs to the same church and has just been promoted to pastor. He’s eager to make a good impression, and Kim isn’t making it easy for him. She has taken the unheard-of step of writing down a woman’s name as nominee for the position of church elder. Fearful that he’ll be fired for such a blatant heresy, Cliff at first refuses to back her up on this. Kim perseveres, but she’s unable to strike a bargain until she’s willing to hear Cliff out.  A WOMAN adroitly manages to avoid becoming preachy despite its topic, and its central argument is more nuanced than the usual Patriarchy-vs-Sisterhood commonplace. Under Kel Haney’s subtle direction, Ikeda and Boyett share and endearing chemistry and shade their roles with wit and empathy.  Overall, though, the lacks heat, seeing as its core issue isn’t really an urgent debate in today’s world. There’s always room for improvement, of course. Yet all but the most archconservative Christian institutions have abolished any prohibition against female leadership, and many sects, like the Presbyterian, Mennonite, and Methodist churches (to name but a few) to have been ordaining women for decades. Cragin-Day’s heart is in the right place, but she seems to be looking in the wrong cathedral for glass ceilings.

A hip comedy of millennial manners, Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds’s WEDDING BASH represents the kind of sketch material SNL should be doing but rarely delivers.  Newlyweds Dana (Rachel Napoleon) and Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) are settling into domestic life after what they believe was a magical wedding. Their dinner guests, Alan (Andy Powers) and pregnant Edi (Georgia Ximines Lifsher), don’t agree. But in today’s walk-on-eggshells culture they feel compelled not to say anything critical. Finally, Alan decides he’s had enough. Conscripting Edi into his honesty campaign, he launches into a self-righteous dressing down of the “selfish wedding” in which the guests were coerced into spending a fortune in travel and accommodations only to suffer through a pretentious ceremony a paltry supply of booze. Lonny and Dana fire back with their own frank admissions:  Those wedding gifts you thought would dazzle us? Well, think again. Things escalate from there, and the resulting chaos leaves no one unscathed. The one thing BASH lacks is a satisfying punchline, but thanks to the comedic skills of the cast, and to Rebecca Lord-Surratt’s uber-bourgeois set design, there are plenty of laughs along the way.

Neil LaBute looks under the surface of professional sports in BREAK POINT, a drama centering on a major tennis tournament. Flush with endorsement money and a staggering string of championship wins Oliver (John Garrett Greer) appears to have everything. Internally, though, it’s a different story. Oliver’s under tremendous pressure to win 20 majors, breaking Federer’s record, and to do that he’ll need to make it to the finals in the French Open. Standing in his way is a formidable opponent, who also happens to be an old acquaintance. Stan (Keilyn Durrel Jones), hasn’t had the same success as Oliver, but his prowess is undeniable—enough so that Oliver’s chance at the title could be blown during the semis. Oliver hits upon an ingenious, if ugly, solution. Stan would find himself in the money if he’s willing to throw the match. Like a surprise serve, this indecent proposal throws Stan off for a moment, but he soon rallies, volleying his own slice shots into his opponent’s court. Tensions mount as the outcome of the match and the true intensions of the players grow increasingly uncertain. Both actors bring an athlete’s poise and kineticism to the game, with the solid, meditative Jones balancing Greer’s fretful garrulousness. As a director l, LaBute’s could stand to tighten the pace, and focus the actors’ energy more forcefully. But, as always, his sharp, provocative writing remains a highlight of the festival.

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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