Good things come in small packages

EATFest: Spring 2006 (Series A)

Emerging Artists Theatre
Theatre 5
311 W. 43rd St. (5th fl.;; 212/247-2429)
Equity showcase (Tues., Fri., and Sat. through Mar. 26)
Review by Byrne Harrison

Short plays offer a wealth of opportunities for playwrights, actors, and directors. When well-written, they can be just as powerful as a full-length show. When poorly written, they can feel just as long. Fortunately, the four wildly different plays presented in Series A of the Emerging Artists Theatre’s Spring 2006 EATFest provided more hits than misses.

The first play of the evening was My Sister the Cow, by Gregory Fletcher. This cute comedy, directed by EAT Artistic Director Paul Adams, follows Carl (Jason Hare), in his sixth year as a sixth-grader, as he tries to protect his overweight sister Jackie (Amy Bizjak) from her classmates, one of whom cruelly left her a cowbell and collar. Using affirmations and cheers from his anger-management class, Carl and Jackie comfort each other, until Carl’s quest for the truth forces his mother, Pearl (Lué McWilliams), to reveal a dirty and wonderfully absurd family secret that is at the root of Jackie’s many plastic surgeries and Carl’s inability to graduate to seventh grade. Amusing, clever, and well-acted, this play started the EATFest on a fun note.

Blackout, the second play, couldn’t be more different. This expressionistic piece by Vladimir Maicovski shows the disintegration of a relationship and its descent into animalistic depths. Directed by Anthony Luciano and featuring Danny Mullock and Maureen Sebastian, this bewildering and disturbing play won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But the playwright and director deserved credit for trying something different.

The third play, Star Train by Susan Merson, was the most traditional and strongest piece of the evening. Starring the charming and expressive Ryan Hilliard as Ed, an older gentleman going home to face his estranged family after the death of his mother, and Yvonne Roen as Judy, a recent widow who had fulfilled her husband’s dream of visiting California, this three-person drama (featuring Jarret Summers as the Porter) is lean and beautiful. Watching these two lonely souls slowly open up to each other, all from the back railing of a cross-country train in the 1950s, offers a marvelous example of well-written dialog, subtle acting, and strong direction (Melissa Attebery).

The final play of the evening has a funny premise -- a girl, Lynne (Irene Longshore), bringing her boyfriend (Matt Stapleton) home to meet her odd and annoying family -- but Matthew J. Hanson’s A Perfectly Normal Dinner just never seemed to gel. As Lynne tries to get her Bible-thumping father (Ron Bopst), baby-talking, alcoholic mother (Christine Mosère), and flamboyant, joke-telling brother (Jack Herholdt) to act like anyone other than who they are, the possibilities for high-jinks are endless. But due in part to uneven dialog, tentative direction, and actors who seemed to lose focus when not speaking, they never seemed to materialize.

As would be expected in an evening of theatre with four plays sharing one stage, the sets (Robert Monaco) and lighting (Jenny Granrud) were a little spare, but worked well for all the shows. Melanie Blythe’s costumes were very appropriate for the various characters.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison