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EST Marathon 2006: Series B

One-act plays by such stalwarts as David Mamet, Will Eno, and Julia Cho all disappoint. logo
Jayne Houdyshell and Brian Murray in Intermission
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
If you're assembling the country's foremost annual one-act play festival and David Mamet sends something in, you include it no matter what. Or at least that's the conclusion to be reached from watching Mamet's Bone China, which is slotted second on the EST Marathon 2006 Series B bill. Or at the very least, it must take a lot for someone like Mamet to receive a thumbs-down from the company: Bone China certainly tries one's patience, even if it is for only 10 minutes (or less, depending on how the actors decide they want to milk whatever pauses they have at their disposal).

In the playlet, directed in a no-nonsense style by Curt Dempster, A (Victor Slezak) and B (Marcia Jean Kurtz) hold one of Mamet's signature cryptic conversations. I've tentatively concluded that the laconic speakers are psychoanalysts at first discussing a problem patient. When A begins to express doubts and B demurs, psychoanalysis itself comes under attack. Maybe it's a metaphor for Mamet's distrust of analysis of any stripe -- particularly of his own oeuvre -- and maybe the title refers to the bone china on which tea was taken by the Viennese women who were Sigmund Freud's early patients (and whom A mentions in derogatory tones). Or maybe none of this is so, even though a telephone call B answers before the play's abrupt finish sounds like a doctor talking to someone ailing. Maybe there's an obvious explanation here that I'm too obtuse to grasp. Your guess is as good as mine.

Will Eno's Intermission follows next; and like Mamet, Eno isn't averse to splitting audiences between those whom he delights and those he frustrates. Here, he's substantially more straightforward than he was with the deliberately enigmatic Thom Pain (based on nothing). Mr. Smith (Brian Murray) and Mrs. Smith (Jayne Houdyshell) are seated alongside another couple, Jack (JJ Kandel) and Jill (Autumn Dornfeld), during the intermission of a play called "The Mayor." (I know: Characters called Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jack and Jill aren't much more promising than ones named A and B.) When Mr. Smith waxes crankily ruminative, their group assessment becomes a matter of more personal revelation. Reading from The Mayor's program, Jack says: "Everything important happens before and after everything else has happened. We live and are alive only in the moments in between the moments."

The quote is evidently the tip-off to Eno's intention to use "intermission" as a symbol of the break during which Mrs. Smith learns something about Mr. Smith she's never known. Otherwise, not much occurs between and among the foursome. And although the performers are all entirely adept, the presence of Jack and Jill seems close to unnecessary. On the other hand, if he's trying to say something about how couples from two generations experience the same events differently, he isn't clear enough.

It could be that the low ratings the Mamet and Eno plays earn on the appreciation meter account for the noticeable enthusiasm one feels for James Ryan's On the Sporadic, which Charles Richter directs with verve. When Matthew (Ean Sheehy) arrives at Bill Brightrobe's (Jordan Gelber) New York casino for an illegal passport, the broad-beamed fellow is in his skivvies giving himself an insulin injection. Thereafter, Brightrobe eventually gets Matthew into a kayak and then into a car driven by his equally outgoing wife, Daisy (Greta Muller). The connection the two men make is at the heart of this one-act, which seriously runs out of steam by the time the fleeting buddies climb into that craft. But at least the show's lively for a while.

The curtain-raiser here is a cloying Julio Cho affair called The 100 Most Beautiful Names of Todd. It's about mother Louise (Alison Bartlett) and daughter Laura (Diana Ruppe) mourning the late man of the house, with occasional asides thrown in by John (William Jackson Harper), a young and sincere man for whom Laura has the increasing hots. Unfortunately, the sentimental work, directed by Jamie Richards, doesn't do much to kick-start an evening of too few rewards.

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