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A CurtainUp Review
Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon of One Act Plays (Series A)A
Often, an evening of short plays is something of a grab bag. You might get something good, or you might get a clunker. Sometimes one play will stand out and the rest will be quickly forgotten. I'm happy to report that each of the Series A offerings is a gem in its own right. While each play is strongly written, their uniformly excellent acting and direction have enhanced and made powerful that which, on the page, might be merely stirring.
In its 34 year existence, EST's Marathon has helped define the one-act play genre, showcasing the shorter works of household names in theater and film among those of talented lesser known playwrights.
Series A opens with the dark comedy, "Poison" by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Moonstruck). In "Poison" the desperate and unstable Kelly (Alicia Goranson) will do anything to win back her ex-boyfriend Kenny (Aaron Serotsky), including enlisting the help of a shady psychic (Jacqueline Antaramian). The actors deftly walk the line between comedy and drama, making this hybrid a tense but often hilarious little nugget from an eminent playwright.
In Dan O'Brien's "Kandahar to Canada," Paul (Jay Patterson), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with emotional and physical wounds of war, escorts Roya (lily Balsen), a bright and promising young Afghani girl to Ottawa to begin a new life free of the control of the Taliban. Abraham Makany is terrific playing an immigration officer on both sides of Roya's journey to freedom.
Eric Dufault's "Something Fine" is the most thematically ambitious of all the pieces, and suffers mixed, but occasionally powerful results. Involving a child custody battle and discussions among inanimate objects, it's a heady and challenging brew for a 20 minute play. Director Larissa Laury holds it together with equal parts tragedy and surreal humor. Lucy Devito stands out as a dashboard hula girl come to life.
"You Belong to Me," by Daniel Reitz, is a moving piece about two former lovers who meet on the subway 18 years after their split. Director Marcia Jean Kurtz keeps Reitz's tearjerker from veering off the rails into sentimentality. Scott Parkinson as Ralph deserves kudos for his credible portrayal of a man navigating life with a serious mental illness.
Joshua Conkel's "Curmudgeons In Love" is the crowd pleaser of the bunch. With a relatively larger cast, and with a ripped-from-the-headlines flavor, it has the greatest potential for spinning out of control. It doesn't, thanks to Ralph Pena's fastidious direction, and the actors' skill in reigning in the play's over the top possibilities. David Margulies is superb as an assisted living facility resident who is not quite ready to put his life on the shelf.
Often, due to budget constraints or timing concerns, one-act play festivals feature bare-bones sets and production. That's not the case here. Scenic Designer Nick Francone and Prop Master Kate Lundell have created a fairly comprehensive set which nonetheless allows for smooth interstitial changes.
If you enjoy one-act plays —those concentrated, intense short stories of our contemporary theater — you'd be hard pressed to find a better group of them than those in EST's Series A. I'm looking forward to what EST has in store for the upcoming Series B and C. Stay tuned. Or better yet, buy yourself a ticket.
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company