When I attended Series A of Summer Shorts (the annual festival of new short American plays at 59E59), the audience was made to first sit through a short but irritating and self-promotional film about an initiative to create film versions of the plays. Now back for Series B, I thought to myself, “They can’t possibly run that film again. After all, much of the audience is attending both Series A and Series B, and they can’t expect us to sit through the same film twice, right?”
Wrong. Before the first of the three short plays comprising the 90-minute, intermission-less evening began, we had to sit through the film all over again. Luckily, Series B of Summer Shorts (which proved to be superior to Series A) more than made up for this minor irritation.
First up was A Woman, a two-hander by Chris Cragin-Day (whose prior work I am not familiar with) in which a smart and accomplished young woman (Jennifer Ikeda) attempts to convince the pastor of her church (Mark Boyett), who is also an old friend, to nominate a woman (it could apparently be any woman at all) to be a church elder – which is not permitted by church protocol and could create a scandal.
To me, this was an ideal scenario for a one-act play: a conflict that can be waged in a simple, private setting. I especially liked how, although the pastor technically had the position of power, his congregant was clearly the more knowledgeable and passionate one. I believed that this could be the starting point for a full play. I wanted to learn why having a female elder would be such a big deal for this religious community. How would the congregation react? Would the pastor be putting his position in danger? In the end, would a female succeed in winning the position following her nomination – and why was this so important to achieve? What exactly does it mean to be an elder?
Next was Wedding Bash, co-written by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds, which proved to be the flat-out funniest of all the six short plays being done at Summer Shorts. It may not be much more than a sketch, but it is an unusually good sketch – and one that a lot of people can relate to. The newly married Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) and Dana (Rachel Napoleon), who are happily certain that their recent overseas wedding was a once-in-a-lifetime smash, are paid a visit by their friends Alan (Andy Powers) and Edi (Georgia Ximenes Lifsher), who reveal in private conversation that attending the event (which involved expensive airfare, hiking and a cash-only bar) was a pain. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Alan and Edi spill their true feelings and go so far as to accuse Lonny and Dana of selfishness and demand their reimbursement for their costs. The characters are not deep, but the concept is cute and the laughs are plentiful.
Up last was Neil LaBute’s annual contribution (which he also directed). A two-hander titled Break Point, it involves a secret meeting between two professional tennis players, taking place just hours before they are scheduled to compete as part of a tournament. Oliver (John Garrett Greer), who is more rich, famous and self-absorbed than his colleague Stan (KeiLyn Durrel Jones), has an awkward proposition for Stan: throw the match in exchange for a multi-million-dollar bribe. Stan is suspicious of the offer and Oliver’s intentions, but he does not call it out of the question. The piece is driven, and made compelling, by what is left unspoken. As conveyed by Jones with a quiet, nuanced performance, you are left wondering what his character is really thinking, whether he is much more offended than he reveals, and why he is willing to trust Oliver. The piece has the potential to be a full-length play, in that LaBute can explore the circumstances leading up to the proposition and its aftermath. Then again, maybe it is meant to be in its current lean and mysterious form.