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The Circle

EST Marathon 2011: Series B

Works by Cassandra Medley and Michael Louis Wells highlight Ensemble Studio Theater's program of one-act plays.

By New York City
Lizan Mitchell and Shyko Amos in Cell
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Lizan Mitchell and Shyko Amos in Cell
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Cassandra Medley's hard-hitting Cell is the strongest entry within Series B of Ensemble Studio Theater's Marathon of One-Act Plays. Director Jamie Richards pitches the tension levels just right, and the three-person cast all deliver superb performances.

The play revolves around Rene (Lizan Mitchell), her sister Cerise (MaConnia Chesser), and Cerise's daughter Gwen (Shyko Amos), who all work at the Thurston Corporation Immigration Detention Center. The excitement and camaraderie evidenced in the first scene soon gives way to rifts in the family dynamic, particularly as Gwen begins to feel more empathy for the detainees. The piece provocatively addresses issues of race, class, and immigration even as it remains centered on the complex interactions of these three women, who are just as trapped by their social circumstances as the prisoners whom they oversee.

Another interesting piece on the bill is Michael Louis Wells' Two From the Line, which makes explicit the homoerotic undertones involved in the "bromance" of male buddies Al (Eddie Boroevich) and Ed (Curran Connor). Boroevich is particularly delightful as he adeptly conveys Al's quizzical responses to some of Ed's surprising pronouncements. Connor occasionally pushes a little too hard, particularly in a scene where Ed suddenly demands a hug from his friend. Still, the brief play, directed by R.J. Tolan, consistently amuses.

David Zellnik's For Elise touches upon some interesting subject matter as it tells the story of Holocaust survivor Elise (Delphi Harrington) and her gay grand-nephew Donny (Erik Liberman). They are sneaking a cigarette during the wedding celebration of family member Josh (Drew Hirshfield), who has recently converted to Hasidism. However, some of the dialogue feels forced, as Zellnik doesn't provide smooth transitions to bridge certain plot points. For example, following an argument between Elise and Donny that has both of them saying some not-so-nice things to each other, it hardly seems the appropriate moment for Donny to ask a major favor of his great-aunt -- and yet, he does exactly that. Still, there's an underlying sweetness to the entire sketch that glosses over some of its more awkwardly constructed segments.

Steven Sater's Mrs. Jones and the Man From Dixieland contains a song from Sater and his Spring Awakening collaborator Duncan Sheik but is unfortunately nowhere near as strong as that Tony Award-winning musical. The titular Mrs. Jones (Uzo Aduba) is a blind, African-American woman who receives several visits from a mysterious white Southern gentleman named Jimmy (Stanton Nash) that are obviously more than what appears on the surface. With its Southern setting and metaphoric overtones, the work seems to be heavily influenced by Tennessee Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. But there's no real tension created by the characters' interaction, and even the sweetly sung, bluegrass-tinged song, "When They Are Your Children" isn't enough to give the work much heft.

Jacquelyn Reingold's I Know proves to be the weakest play of the evening. It centers on an older couple (Beth Dixon and Jack Davidson), who face a relationship crisis. However, there's no chemistry between the two performers, which throws the balance of the piece off, and makes its ultimate resolution less credible.


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