Neal Huff and J.J. Kandel in "The Killing"
(© Carol Rosegg)
Neal Huff and J.J. Kandel in "The Killing"
(© Carol Rosegg)
William Inge's never-before-produced one-act "The Killing" is the main reason to see Summer Shorts 3 Series B, now at 59E59 Theaters. In it, Mac (Neal Huff) brings Huey (J.J. Kandel) back to his apartment for what initially seems like a sexual pick-up. Certainly, that's what Huey thinks he's there for, but Mac has a darker purpose in mind. He makes an unusual request that places Huey in a moral bind. The situation could easily tip over into melodrama, but director Jose Angel Santana's perfectly modulated production keeps the action grounded. He elicits nuanced performances from his two actors, with Huff exuding a quiet desperation and Kandel speaking in slow, measured tones that give weight to the crucial choice his character must eventually make.

The remaining pieces in the program are of varying quality. Roger Hedden's "If I Had" shows potential, as it depicts two friends, Slim (Shane McRae) and Augie (Andy Powers), who run a lawn maintenance service together. The piece touches on issues of class and entitlement, particularly during an interaction with Audrey (Emily Tremaine), the daughter of one of their clients. There are some funny lines, and the piece is performed well enough, but the ending feels a little rushed and would benefit from a more thorough exploration of Slim and Augie's history together.

The curtain-raiser, "Don't Say Another Word," by Carole Real, rehashes the main theme recently explored (to better effect) in Neil LaBute's reasons to be pretty. Josh (Andy Grotelueschen) makes an offhand remark to his girlfriend Laura (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) that looks don't matter to him, and that it's what's inside that counts. She, of course, takes offense, saying, "I don't know if I want to spend my life with a man who isn't attracted to me." Neither actor brings much depth to their portrayals, but admittedly the writing itself is fairly shallow.

The weakest entry in the program is also the longest: Keith Reddin's "The Sin Eater," which riffs on the story of Electra and Orestes. This contemporary version centers on an African-American family in which Cleo (Rosayln Coleman) has killed her husband, engendering hatred from her daughter El (flatly played by Clara Hopkins Daniels). Eventually, son Orel (Sheldon Woodley) comes back to seek revenge, while along the way we meet court-appointed psychiatrist Candice (Jamie Watkins), El's friend Ruthie (Teala Dunn), and police officer Alex (J.J. Kandel), who explains the work's title in an overly expository passage, thick with symbolism. Reddin also throws in a few slightly revised lines from Hamlet for no discernable reason. Perhaps the play is meant to be a parody -- and might work better as such -- but director Billy Hopkins' production seems overly earnest.