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EST Marathon of One-Act Plays 2010: Series A

The final two plays in this group of five new works are worth sticking around for. logo
John-Martin Green and Lou Liberatore in Turnaround,
part of E.S.T.'s Marathon of One-Act Plays 2010
(Photo courtesy of the company)
Series A in Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon of One-Act Plays 2010 concludes with two pieces that capture audiences' imaginations and hearts, grandly compensating for the less-than-satisfying trio of works that begin the evening of new short plays.

The series begins with Ben Rosenthal's promising play Safe, a portrait of a tumultuous evening between Wally (Gio Perez) and his stepfather Kearn (Danny Mastrogiorgio), both of whom are reeling from the recent death of Wally's mom. Unfortunately, the piece fails to convince as it veers between testosterone-fueled aggression and symbolism. The performers work valiantly, under Carolyn Cantor's direction, to navigate the play's twists and turns even as they attempt to uncover the characters' deeper emotional truths, but despite their fine efforts, the piece strains credulity.

Similarly, Adam Kraar's Wild Terrain, which focuses on a couple in their golden years whose unhappiness spills out while they're touring an outdoor art installation, feels strained from the onset. While Jack Davidson imbues the husband, Henry, with gentle impatience, and Marcia Jean Kurtz mines the wife's unexplained neuroses and quicksilver mood changes with aplomb, theatergoers never understand how the couple has made it to this point in their marriage. A truly bright spot in the overextended work is the appearance of Cherie (an ebullient Catherine Curtain), one of Henry's former students.

A truly surprise ending for Robert Askins' Matthew and the Pastor's Wife gives the first half of Series A, a terrific first act curtain. Both Scott Sowers and Geneva Carr, under the direction of John Giampietro, turn in shrewdly crafted performances in this piece about a minister's wife who provides a perpetual adulterer a lesson he won't soon forget.

The second half of the series begins with Daniel Reitz's wise Turnabout, a pungent comedy about ex-lovers Dennis (John-Martin Green) and Josh (Lou Liberatore). What begins as a leisurely exploration of the men's relationship (particularly in Moritz von Stuelpnagel's understated staging) turns into a thoughtful -- and hysterical -- meditation on gay identity and self-awareness when Josh meets Dennis' terms to gain the cash he desperately needs. Green, Liberatore, and Haskell King turn in sterling performances in this delicious work.

The final piece in this segment of the Marathon is Amy Fox's Where Are the Children, a look at five parents who are coping with the realities of their children's military service in Iraq. The interlocking monologues for unnamed characters range from the woman (Melanie Nocholls-King) who's shipping care packages to not only her son, but also other servicemen, to the Vietnam vet dad (Freddie Lehne), who's hoping that his son's tour of duty might bring them closer together. Abigail Zealey Bess has directed the piece with care. And the ensemble, which also includes Barbara Andres and Bill Cwikowski as a couple who are caring for their grandkids while their daughter serves, as well as a father who learns to accept his daughter's Facebook pen-pal turned boyfriend, delivers nuanced performances that never allow the piece's more charged moments to devolve into bathos.

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