Jackie Chung and Nikki E. Walker in Trickle
(© Zack Brown)
Jackie Chung and Nikki E. Walker in Trickle
(© Zack Brown)
EST Marathon 2009 Series A features a remarkably disappointing slate of new works. While these five plays attempt to offer a moving survey of American life over the last 50 years, they range from near-misses to the simply meritless.

The most prominent writer in the series is Kia Corthron, whose Trickle dramatizes the idea, declared by one character, that in our free-market economy, "the only thing that trickles down is poverty." It's a powerful argument presented here too predictably and capped off with a twist of bizarre political reasoning at the end. Corthron has a tendency to throw facts and figures into her works; while she has a compelling point of view about Reaganomics, Milton Friedman, and corporate bailouts, you get the sense that she would be a more effective pamphleteer than she is a dramatist. Director Will Pomerantz keeps the pace up, but his actors (Geneva Carr, Shirine Babb, Tatiana Suarez-Pico, Nikki E. Walker, and Jackie Chung) are only serviceable.

The best performance of the night comes from Jay Patterson as a struggling widower welcoming back his troubled son from Iraq in Tommy Smith's PTSD. Haskell King (who shows promise as the laconic young soldier who is painfully reminded that post-traumatic stress is not a disorder confined to distant battlefields), Stephanie Janssen, and Julie Fitzpatrick all have well-timed portrayals, but only Patterson's emotional connection is strong enough to fill the three dimensions of his character. Director William Carden is effective at mining the most innocuous dialogue for meaningful subtext, but Smith's writing is undermined by his own attempt to impose pat explanations onto intractable problems.

Another playwright to keep an eye on is Garrett M. Brown, whose Americana depicts an encyclopedia salesman (Chris Ceraso) who delivers more than just a set of books to a young boy (Miles Bergner) in late-1950s Connecticut. There's a germ of an idea here into which a writer like Thornton Wilder might have sunk his teeth, but the play is too sentimental and derivative to engage us into caring about these characters or what eventually happens to them. Still, Michael Cullen and Ann Talman make the very best of their roles as the boy's all-American parents.

Even less successful is For the Love of God, St. Teresa, written by and starring Christine Farrell and co-starring Lucy DeVito, which comes off as little more than an exercise for acting class. A tough-minded nun and a rebellious girl in early 1960s New Jersey face off and find some common ground. Along the way, we get stale Catholic jokes, shallowly portrayed teenage angst, and thoroughly contrived plot devices, including an odd and clumsily executed appearance in the last seconds of another nun (played by Brooke Fulton Myers).

Most baffling of all is the play that rings down the curtain: Maggie Bofill's Face Cream. It's an attempt to explore with humor the subject of aging and our ideals of feminine beauty, and two fine actors, Bruce MacVittie and Paula Pizzi, give it their best shot under the direction of Pamela Berlin. But the piece never amounts to more than a one-joke sketch. Moreover, a climactic tango to a familiar version of the pop hit "Roxanne" does little more than remind one wistfully of Moulin Rouge, in which it was used to exponentially greater effect.