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A CurtainUp Review

Marathon 2000: Series C
Ensemble Studio Theatre's 23rd Annual Festival of One-Act Plays
"Cannibals", "The Final Interrogation of Ceausescu's Dog", "Birth Marks",  "Alien Boy" and "Proof"

by Les Gutman  
E.S.T. brings its Marathon season to a close with five short plays with lots of supremely comic moments but an overall sense that we are nonetheless treading in more serious waters. Some particularly fine acting is also on display. 

The first two offerings make their points with simple elegance. "Cannibals," the curtain raiser, finds Jane (Diana LaMar) performing carpooling duties for her kids, Sierra (Miranda Black) and Max (Lou Carbonneau), as well as two other girls, Persephone (Annie Meisels) and Rachel (Anna Antonia Li). Jane is a lawyer on the "mommy track," married to a lawyer and now carting around the children of other lawyers. Her incredulity at her upper middle class suburban existence, which leaves her unhappy, frustrated and short-tempered, is trumped when the rewards of motherhood come into sharp relief. LaMar is terrific in several out-of-body monologues that punctuate the ride, and Meisels is especially notable among the kids in this piece, all smartly staged by India Cooper. 

Warren Leight's fanciful "The Final Interrogation of Ceausescu's Dog" goes precisely where the title would suggest. In the days following the Romanian despot's execution, his canine friend is given due process. It's a clever rumination on the nature of man, the mind and the sometimes illusive powers they can wield. Ean Sheehy is fine as the young interrogator, but Alexander R. Scott's baronial pet is sublime, seizing the somber humor from the smugness of the animal without letting it generate his own. 

Leslie Caputo's "Birth Marks" is an entirely predictable, virtually interminable treatment of the plight of a new young mother, Terry (Jenna Lumia), whose husband is, in the words of her father (Martin Shakar, who is splendid in the sole redeeming performance here), "a bum". Terry is Irish, her husband Latino. The father comes to her hospital room bearing letters from his disgraced wife as he tries to balance his devotions to both. Terry is in denial regarding the state of her marriage, and confused about what to do with her new baby girl. Her spicy sister-in-law, Yvonne (Nicole Gomez), is anxious for them to take the baby home; the hospital seems to think she would be better off put up for adoption. Gomez is oddly restrained and slightly off-key, as is Ramón de Ocampo as her brother, Luis, a character who is also unfortunate for having been written "slow," for no reason other than, I suppose, its perceived comic potential. The discomfort of labor is supposed to be erased by what follows. Here, the pain clearly persists, and regrettably the audience also has little cause for celebration. 
David Greenspan
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

We've seen David Greenspan's evocation of enough gay men onstage (Boys in the Band, The Wax and Small Craft Warnings, to name the most memorable) that his portrayal of the two ends of a thirty year arc in the life of the unnamed one in Will Scheffer's monologue, "Alien Boy," seems both familiar and, well, alien. We first find him at age 13, the year he canceled his Bar Mitzvah and insisted his mother take him from Bloomfield, NJ to New York City to see Boys in the Band (the movie). Later, he morphs into the older, wiser gay New Yorker he is today, his "polite relationship" with his mother reaching an indescribable conclusion. Scheffer manages to seriously consider a broad range of issues, and Greenspan never ceases to entertain. 

"Proof" (not to be confused with the full length play currently on display at Manhattan Theatre Club) begins with an intemperate (and exceptionally funny) lecture by a post-doctoral neuroscience fellow, Nathan Simpson (Brad Bellamy), and ends, less auspiciously, with his multi-level confrontation with his mentor, Norman P. Carver (Forest Compton). There's a lot of good material here, but even the two strikingly good performances unfortunately can't overcome the repetitiveness that takes the wind out of its sails by the end. 

97 Series C 
98 Series A B C 
99 Series A B 
00 Series A B 
by Heather Dundas 
Directed by India Cooper 
with Miranda Black, Lou Carbonneau, Diana LaMar, Anna Antonia Li and Annie Meisels 

by Warren Leight 
Directed by Jack Hofsiss 
with Alexander R. Scott and Ean Sheely 

by Leslie Caputo 
Directed by Abigail Zealey Bess 
with Martin Shakar, Nicole Gomez, Ramón de Ocampo and Jenna Lamia 

by Will Scheffer 
Directed by Mark Roberts 
with David Greenspan 

by Jeff Reich 
Directed by Kevin Confoy 
with Brad Bellamy and Forest Compton 

Set Designs by Carlo Adinolfi 
Costume Designs by Bruce Goodrich 
Lighting Designs by Greg MacPherson 
Sound Designs by Robert Gould 
Ensemble Studio Theatre 549 West 52nd Street (10/11 AV) (212) 247- 4982 
May 31 - June 11 , 2000 
Time: approximately 1 hour, 55 minutes with one intermission 
Reviewed by Les Gutman June 2, 2000
©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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