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Summer Shorts 5: Series A

Plays by Neil LaBute, Alexander Dinelaris, Christopher Durang, and Ruby Rae Spiegel make up this mixed bag of short works.

Jeff Binder, Mando Alvarado, and James Chen
in The New Testament
(© Rahav Segev)
Summer Shorts 5: Series A, now at 59E59 Theatres, has a particularly impressive lineup of playwrights, with new plays by Christopher Durang and Neil LaBute. Unfortunately, the program is a mixed bag at best, with the veterans being outclassed by a 17-year-old playwright.

The best play of the evening comes first: Ruby Rae Spiegel proves to have such a fine ear for dialogue that we're instantly drawn into the insecure lives of the title characters in Carrie and Francine (who are played by Lydia Weintraub and Louise Sullivan, respectively) as they prepare for a Bar Mitzvah. In a few short scenes, we see them grapple with their budding sexuality in ways that are both endearing and disturbing. Spiegel never veers into melodrama or apologizes for her characters' behavior.

Durang's Triple Trouble with Love is a half-baked one-act juxtaposing monologues of three desperate people who have been unlucky in love. It's a subject Durang has been exploring for years, and there are no surprises here. The first two thirds are a remarkably unfunny account of a relationship gone bad due mainly to a misunderstanding that's told by both halves of the couple (Aidan Sullivan and Nick Choksi). Luckily, the third part is pretty hysterical. Beth Hoyt channels some of Durang's most beloved neurotics as Jackie, a sweet woman who keeps falling for drug addicts. The sincerity of her delivery sells Durang's dry dialogue, but also highlights the play's faults.

Alexander Dinelaris' In This, Our Time... plays out mostly with the overblown energy of an afterschool special. However, the relationship between a teenage Jules (Erin Darke) and her promiscuous mom's detective boyfriend, Billy (Ted Koch), anchors the play with a compelling relationship that forces us to question where the bounds of parent / child relationships are formed. Jules' mom, Maggie (Maryann Towne), though, is too much of a one-dimensional villain for the play to transcend the black and white colors with which Dinelaris paints his characters.

Neil LaBute's The New Testament is more of an essay about race than a play. The action centers around an obnoxious playwright (Jeff Binder) who fires an Asian-American actor (James Chen) because he feels the man's race disqualifies him from playing Jesus in the playwright's revisionist take on the bible. There are interesting, even riveting, sections of dialogue filled with the emotional charge and exacting cadence of LaBute's best work, but the characters are never able to be more than mouthpieces for the author's ideas.


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