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EST Marathon 2006: Series C

Stephen Adly Guirgis' Dominica: The Fat, Ugly 'Ho proves to be the best entry in this year's Marathon. logo
Liza Colon Zayas and Dominic Colon in
Dominica: The Fat Ugly 'Ho
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Dramatic literature's most famous balcony scene is the tender exchange between the adolescent Romeo and Juliet. A close second is the sequence in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac where the eponymous big-nose guides the tongue-tied Christian through his verbal romancing of the lovely Roxane. Now, Stephen Adly Guirgis has written what deserves to be the world's third most adored balcony scene in Dominica: The Fat, Ugly 'Ho, which would win the prize for best entry in the Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon 2006 if such a prize were given out.

The Guirgis doozy is also the lead-off contender in EST's Series C, which packs five playlets rather than the usual four one-acts into this year's most rewarding evening. For all I know, Guirgis slaves over every word in his work. But his plays come off as seamless outpourings of beautifully if often haltingly expressed emotions that leave the impression he merely eavesdrops on real people -- usually, volatile members of the under-class -- while operating a high-powered tape recorder.

This is certainly the case with Dominica, which Adam Rapp has directed simply and tellingly. In the play, Rolando (Carlo Alban) tries to rekindle the affections of Mylene (Liza Colon-Zayas) after she has stabbed him. While these two teens -- slightly older than Romeo and Juliet -- trade gradually loving remarks, Rolando's homeboy, Carlo, (Dominic Colon) stands in the shadows whispering verbal billets-doux like a Hell's Kitchen Cyrano. The path of true love eventually runs smoother for Rolando and Mylene, especially when Rolando says, "I love you so much, Mylene, it's like I have to grow more to fit it in my body." But Guirgis, ever the sly one, keeps a few cynical surprises until the last, tangy moments of this perfect exercise.

Michael Louis Wells gets to the heart of another love story in Detail, a bar play in which a dart board serves as a symbol for the targets that siblings Wayne (John Leonard Thompson) and Madeleine (Dana Powers Acheson) make of one another. The articulate brother and sister are having their annual Christmas gift exchange, a tradition Madeleine wants to trade for Wayne's accompanying her on an uncomfortable holiday trip home. One-act plays are often two-handers in which estranged characters break through emotional barriers, and this one is up that well-traveled alley. But Detail connects because Wells has so effectively written the roles of Wayne, a tense artist, and Madeleine, a gender studies instructor with her own sexual orientation concerns. The only drawback here is the direction of Lou Jacob, who has the dart-sharp actors moving around in a way that no twosome would carry on at a pub, even if they thought they were somewhat secluded.

Speaking of disconnected characters finally connecting: Lila (Julie Leeds) and Carl (Will Janowitz) attempt that perilous crossing in Edward Allen Baker's Lila on the Wall. She is a television reporter with weakening job security; he is a cameraman with a reputation as a flake. They're readying an 11 o'clock-news story on a graffiti-laden concrete wall where, three months earlier, a suicidal woman claimed that she saw Jesus' face. Baker fills in Lila and Wayne efficiently, but allows them too much time parrying and thrusting to their predictable end. Ken Confoy directs the capable actors with matching efficiency. but he hasn't done enough in getting Baker to cut to the man/woman chase essentials.

Nor is the whole of Ann Marie Healy's contribution to the series greater than the sum of its parts, although it comes close. In The Night That Roger Went to Visit the Parents of His Old High School Girlfriend, the parents visited by Roger (Jack Carpenter) are Herbert (Daniel Gerroll) and Marlene (Patricia Kalember), whose dead daughter Kitty has left them grieving in discrete ways. Marlene chatters in an attempt to keep Kitty alive in memory; Herbert is so disconsolate that he won't speak. Healy's brief, neatly clipped scenes, directed economically by Andrew McCarthy, lend a disturbing undercurrent to the need of survivors to supply reasons for the unexplainable. Still, the feeling persists that more dramatic ore could have been mined from the dolorous situation.

The lone misfire on the bill is The Bus to Buenos Aires, a melancholy and pretentious dirge that composer Curtis Moore and lyricist-librettist Thomas Mizer have adapted from Fernando Sanchez Sorondo's short story, "Las Hermanas de Javier Wiconda." As the Spanish title suggests, sisters figure importantly in the musicalized play. Yet, Moore has inexplicably changed Javier's name to Paulo (Sebastian La Cause), an unhappy fellow who's journeying home to discover which one of his sisters has died. Is it Luisa (Jessica Carter), Teresa (Jennie Eisenhower), or Cynthia (Whitney Baker)? La Cause gives a strong performance, but the women -- obviously cast for their voices and not their acting chops -- aren't up to the task at hand.

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