Maestro was a bright opening to The 42nd Street WorkShop's first series in their First Annual One-Act Festival. Conceived and performed by Charles E. Gerber, it was a representation of a piece of street theater - an orchestra leader at a music stand, comically conducting a taped symphony. Gerber was wonderfully expressive, his eyes narrowing and widening, his baton and fingers giving comic cues to his orchestra. The piece is subtitled "A pantomime . . . in homage to" Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, but his real role model appears to have been Bugs Bunny. The bittersweet coda seemed tacked on, but Gerber was terrific anyway.
The title of Going by Ian Cohenseems to refer to the parents and their kids going to grandma's house, as well as grandma's impending death. The play, though, is all text. No subtext. No meaning. A unifying directorial hand or point of view might have helped, but it was not there. Just the old woman (Helen Hanft), her unmarried daughter (Laurie Graff), her son (G.W. Reed), his wife (Jill Kotler) and their two kids (Walter Hyman, Scott Andrew Kurchak). The family dynamic was recognizable, but there was little point to it, and less drama - but Gnatt's prototype was less Beckett, more sitcom. Some of the actors tried (Kotler, Hyman); some were trying (Reed, Kurchak). Graff was defeated by the material, but Rick Eisenberg at least managed variety in several roles. Hanft was many things, but a dying matriarch was not one of them.
Tickets, Please! by Tony Sportiello was the best of the evening, because it set modest goals and met them. On a commuter train, a successful businesswoman is approached by a well-dressed stranger, who turns out to be Death. But there's a glitch - he's collecting the wrong person. He intends to take her anyway, but their conversation makes her reevaluate her life, and what she believes is important. She negotiates, he resists, until finally - well, there's even a satisfying twist ending. The piece benefited from intelligent playing by Suzanna Frazer and Mark Hofmaier, and the direction (by Manfred Bormann), like the play, didn't overreach.
Diving for Bijoux by Terry Diamond seemed to be three short monologues from a longer play (it ended before it was dramatically over). A young woman (Joanna McNeilly) describes her lesbian awareness and experiences at three different points in her life -- teenage, '20s, and, well, s/m. McNeilly made you listen to the words, even when you weren't sure she could be saying what you were hearing. Direction (by Robert Trumbull) was appropriately unobtrusive. The title, if you're wondering, is a euphemism.
Sets, costumes and lighting (uncredited) were basic but serviceable for all four plays.
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Copyright 1999 David Mackler