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Summer Shorts 4: Series B

30 Rock star Scott Adsit and veteran actor Arthur French co-star in Alan Zweibel's heartwarming comedy Happy, which is the standout in this program of one-acts. logo
Arthur French and Scott Adsit in Happy
(© Carol Rosegg)
Veteran playwright and screenwriter Alan Zweibel wins best-in-show for his heartwarming comedy Happy, the second entry in Summer Shorts 4: Series B, the mixed bag of one-acts now on view at 59E59 Theaters.

In Zweibel's piece, directed by Fred Berner, sports-paraphernalia dealer Donald Rappaport (the well-cast Scott Adsit) arrives at the Florida residence of Happy Haliday (Arthur French, equally fine), a janitor who played only 28 games with the 1961 Mets before his major-league career was halted by a wild-pitch beaning. During those few appearances, however, Happy accumulated the kind of record that had sportswriters crying "next-Willie-Mays."

The reason longtime Mets fan Donald has tracked Happy to his quite humble abode is that he has a souvenir baseball signed by everyone in the 1961 starting-line-up but Happy himself. At first, Happy assumes he'd be signing it for a fan, but when Donald starts talking about the artifact being worth $28,000, it sounds as if fandom isn't what's motivating him. While misunderstandings get in the way of the developing friendship, the playwright achieves his contented end with a bit of sentimentality and plenty of genuine humor.

The strongest of the also-rans on the bill is Christopher Stetson Boal's two-hander Jonathan's Blaze, in which Joseph (J. J. Kandel) is discovered holding a gun on Thomas (P. J. Sosko). Thomas' delusional reasoning is that an angel has instructed him to set himself aflame in front of Joseph in order that Joseph race through the blaze as rescuer.

What Joseph -- in his warped mind -- is doing is recreating the self-immolation his brother staged somewhere near Basra during the Iraq war where his sergeant, Thomas, witnessed the event and did nothing. The play's suspense hangs on whether Joseph, soaking himself in gasoline, will follow through on his threat or whether Thomas will dissuade him when insisting that the dead brother was foolish enough to light a match near an oil supply.

Boal's oblique approach to criticizing the Middle-Eastern war is a hefty asset. So are the contending high-voltage figures as played by Kandel and Sosko under Alexander Dinelaris' hyperkinetic direction. But since the play begins at such a histrionic level, it quickly become repetitive -- and the denouement comes as more of a relief than the shocker Boal is after.

In Neil Koenigsberg's Fit, Billy Butch Dean (Jose Joaquin, whose biceps look to be made of kryptonite) gets into a romantic entanglement with client Walter (Liam Torres), while also attempting to keep things copasetic with gym-addicted gal-pal Kimmie Rose (Kate Cullen Roberts). As the trio try to balance a three-way seesaw, Koenigsberg blasts some fitness-knocking zingers. But not only can't he keep his body-builders interesting, the work's abrupt, unsatisfactory ending gives the impression that even he quickly tired of his subject.

The Graduation of Grace, by Wendy Kesselman, has the eponymous young woman (Clara Hopkins Daniels, in a graceful turn) at a lectern, addressing her Acorn school graduating class and commenting -- by way of William Blake and Countee Cullen --- on her coming to grips with being a young African-American facing the future. While the monologue itself remains pleasantly thoughtful without being compelling, it's marred by Stephanie Berry's direction, confusing in its stab at bringing movement to an otherwise static address.

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