Megan Tusing and Eddie Boroevich in Airborne
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Megan Tusing and Eddie Boroevich in Airborne
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Intriguing ideas abound in the five pieces that comprise Series B in Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon of One-Act Plays 2010, making for a rich theatrical smorgasbord. It's unfortunate, though, that many of the works are over-written and so theatergoers will feel oversated and a little overwhelmed even before evening's end.

The most succinct -- and successful -- piece is Laura Jacqmin's Airborne, a marvelously terse meditation on a fatal accident that befalls a paratrooper, Jensen (played with simple intensity by Megan Tusing), during what should be routine parachuting drills. The work unfolds with curious beauty as Tusing wraps herself in a long white cloth held taut by two castmates. A commanding officer (Amy Staats) barks out orders as Jensen muses on not only what is going wrong, but also on her time in the service, the sexism she's encountered, and, perhaps even the love that she's found in the military.

Among the other four plays, perhaps most promising is David Auburn's Amateurs, which focuses on a right wing politician, known only as M (David Rasche), and the adult daughter, known only as W (Diana Ruppe), of a candidate M once defeated after some ugly campaigning. What begins as a tense, but amicable, meeting turns ugly once W has revealed her true agenda. Under Harris Yulin's direction, Rasche turns in a supremely oily, yet strangely likable, performance that makes a twist at the piece's end particularly pungent. Amateurs requires theatergoers to look beyond labels as it investigates smear tactics in both politics and life, and it's difficult to not sense that there might be a longer play waiting to blossom from this short one.

The remaining three pieces range from the curious to the sweetly anecdotal. In the former category is Laura Maria Censabella's Interviewing Miss Davis, which imagines Bette Davis (played with flair by Delphi Harrington) interviewing Eliza (Claire Siebers), a young woman who hopes to become the legendary star's personal assistant, a replacement for Davis' current one, Jackie (Adria Vitlar). Set late in Davis' life -- as she endures the ravages of two strokes and anticipates her daughter's tell-all memoir -- Censabella ostensibly wants the piece to illuminate a variety of mother-daughter relationships. Although well-performed, it feels merely like an excursion into suppositional star-gazing.

A quartet of finely crafted performances can be found in Jacquelyn Reingold's They Float Up and Rachel Bonds' Anniversary. In Reingold's comic drama, a man (William Jackson Harper) and a woman (Kellie Overbey) meet in the bar of a New Orleans strip club some five years after Hurricane Katrina. Reingold's crafted a wonderful portrait of two wounded souls that Harper and Overbey bring to life with both delicacy and flair, but the playwright overburdens her work with pedantic musings on events that followed the hurricane's destruction, diminishing the play's power.

Equally charming are Julie Fitzpatrick and Jerry Richardson's turns in Bonds' piquant play about a woman finding new romance following the death of a lover. Cunningly directed by Linsay Firman, the play and its staccato dialogue are both thought-provoking and moving, and with some minor revisions, it might prove to be a tiny emotional dynamo.