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EST Marathon 2011: Series A

Works by Romulus Linney, Billy Aronson, and Qui Nguyen highlight this program of one-acts. logo
Kristen Lowman and Scott Sowers in Tennessee
(© Gerry Goodstein)
The Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon 2011 is aptly named. Series A of this program of one-act plays clocks in at just under three-and-a-half hours, including two intermissions. It also contains long stretches of flat writing and performances, with occasional flashes of excitement and a dynamic finish that makes the whole thing seem worthwhile.

Things get off to a slow start with Ben Rosenthal's Ten High, about a pair of thugs (Danny Mastrogiorgio and Ned Eisenberg) and a married couple (Chris Ceraso, Tina Benko), all in the same restaurant. The piece touches upon issues of infidelity, fate, chance, and redemption, but much of the writing feels forced and the sketch goes on too long for its own good.

The next piece, J. Holtham's School Night, isn't any better. It tells the story of Ammon (Curtis M. Jackson), the only African-American student in his small town high school, who yearns to belong to something. Unfortunately, Jackson's lackluster performance makes it hard to empathize with his struggle, and the work of Lucy DeVito as Ammon's love interest and Lance Rubin as his stepbrother do not elevate the script, either.

The centerpiece of the program, which comprises the entirety of the second act, is a revival of the late Romulus Linney's Tennessee, directed by Harris Yulin. Set shortly after the Civil War, a Southern family (Rufus Collins, Julie Fitzpatrick, Eamon Foley) receives a visit from an old woman (Kristen Lowman) who used to live in their home. The play is filled with humor and a bit of mystery, as the strange visitor tells her story. While several of the actors deliver caricatured portrayals, the engaging one-act features a superlative performance from Scott Sowers, who appears in flashback as the old woman's suitor and eventual husband.

Billy Aronson's intriguing In the Middle of the Night starts out as a quirky romantic comedy between nerdy college student Dan (Jared McGuire) and his girlfriend Sherry (Irene Longshore), who have broken into a deserted building for a secret rendezvous. However, the arrival of the boy's mother (Helen Coxe) and stepfather (Scott Sowers) throws a different and disquieting light on the nature of the young couple's relationship. The piece gets an added lift from a choreographed dance by Wendy Seyb that appropriately amuses the first time around, and then disturbs when repeated.

The final -- and most outstanding -- piece of the evening is Bike Wreck, written by Qui Nguyen. This darkly humorous exploration of racial stereotypes, gentrification, and violence tells the story of an African-American bike messenger (Charlie Hudson, III), a Chinese restaurant delivery boy (Arthur Acuna), and a wealthy white man (Michael Louis Wells), whose paths intersect. Director John Gould Rubin excellently paces the action so that it's laugh-out-loud funny one moment, then deadly serious the next. He also gets terrific work out of his trio of actors who all deliver finely nuanced performances.

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