Spring Shorts '99

Waterfront Ensemble
The Flatiron Playhouse
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

All the plays in this showcase passed as far as professionalism of production goes, a fact that is becoming unsurprising on the Waterfront. The writing itself, while not always profound, made for a diverse afternoon of entertaining theatre.

The Curator, by Luigi Jannuzzi (directed by Wendy Overly), takes the form of a speech by a curator, some of whose paintings - or, more precisely, the inhabitants of those paintings - have escaped. (In a charming conceit, characters from sketches for Seurat's masterpiece, which is composed entirely of dots, are clearly visible from a distance but disappear when seen close up.) Jill Macy as the curator was amusing and crisp, as a character and as an actress.

Machiavelli to the Rescue (Mr. Jannuzzi again) has a harried 14-century prince on a cell phone to Machiavelli's consulting firm's voice-mail system, which continues to misguide him until it is clear that the devious counselor is himself attacking the gates. A lightweight but cute idea executed with verve by Jeff Baskin and Jack Finnegan (with Dawn McGee as the insufferable Voice).

In Carl Gonzalez's Smithereens, a woman seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown spills her psychic load to her silent husband, whose face is concealed behind a drop as he fixes a chandelier, while she hands him parts. When it seems she has offered the definitive last word on their marriage and his deficiencies, he comes down from the ladder and delivers his version. This deceptive play is loaded with subtle suspense and was intensely performed.

Room with No Doors, by Jason Grote, offered Marcia Finn in a radiant monolog as a young girl.

The Quality of Mercy, also by Mr. Grote, is one of the best-balanced plays of the series, showing some depth along with economy (although the theatrical gimmick on which it is based is hardly new - but then, what is?). A cater-waiter (Michael Finn) appears to take a plutocrat (Joseph Franchini) hostage at gunpoint. It appears at the end of the play that the whole episode was a momentary figment of the waiter's imagination, mentally acting out what he doesn't dare do. But the clarity of the writing made the play more than a gimmick (as did the truthfulness in performance).

Big Man in Westfield (Pete Ernst), while a bit repetitive, showed an original premise, as a man returned to visit his hometown - except he is so big he has to be careful not to step on the houses. He meets a woman in similar circumstances. Talk about "meeting cute!" The theme, that you can go home again but you'd better be careful where you step, had resonance. (With Eli Ganias and Carol Sirugo.)

Dear Vaya (Suzanne Marshall) is a story of a teenage friendship over the Internet, in which one of the friends is a "normal" country girl, and the other is a mental patient, a fact revealed only by degrees. While affecting, it too is repetitive and needs some trimming. (Kristin Reddick was sweet as the country girl; Jenny Wales was impressive as her unbalanced friend.)

All these plays are blissfully free of those twin bugbears of one-acts, Twilight Zone-isms and grad-school philosophical blather. Some resonate along the fault lines of the human condition. All were sharply performed. (Minimal scenery, street costumes, and effective lighting [Dennis Hromin] were more than sufficient to the occasion.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 John Chatterton