A master class in acting, led by the inimitable Estelle Parsons, is currently on view in AdA - Author Directing Author at La MaMa E.T.C. Ellen Stewart Theatre , two one-act plays by Marco Calvani and Neil LaBute, who each direct the other's work.
Calvani's Things of This World, which is heavily influenced by the cryptic absurdism of Pinter and Ionesco, and LaBute's Lovely Head, are enigmatic explorations of the power dynamics in two relationships, both of which contain revelations that are striking in both their similarities and differences. Both authors also revel in the banal language that often fuels such power struggles. And neither play is fully successful in making the mundane compelling.
Fortunately, the actors are exceptional at injecting life into the proceedings. Parsons (who is on loan from the Broadway production of Nice Work If You Can Get It) gives a crackling portrayal in Calvani's piece, playing a woman whose life is bankrupt in every conceivable way. Whether she's delivering one of Calvani's genuinely funny lines ("To be your mother is not part of my agenda. Today is Wednesday.") or giving a seasoned twist to a throwaway bit of dialogue, Parsons never fails to connect.
In supporting parts, Larry Pine is mesmerizing in a silent role, and Craig Bierko is all unctuous charm as a younger man who, it would appear, is Parsons' long-suffering butler.
In Lovely Head, Pine is a seemingly affluent gentleman whose relationship with a much younger prostitute (played by newcomer Gia Crovatin in a superlative performance) is clearly more than meets the eye.
Here, Calvani seems to have encouraged both actors to deliver their lines as though they're making them up as they go along, which adds an energetic layer of naturalism to LaBute's fairly predictable story. It's no surprise that the always-terrific Pine is excellent, even if he's not fully adept with the physical demands of a recurring joke in the script.
Both plays also share a virtually identical stage design by Obie winner Neil Patel, whose white padded-cell backdrop and spare set pieces simultaneously evoke a sterile cocoon and a slick, but confining trap, with David Moodey's lighting design offering effective finishing touches to each.