On the A section of the two-part Summer Shorts bill, now at 59E59, Michael Domitrovich’s Real World Experience and Leslie Lyles’ Rain, Heavy at Times are so trifling and irritating that they make the two other works, Warren Leight’s Amici, Ascoltate and Eduardo Machado’s Afternoon Tea, look like thrilling dramatic literature. But the unhappy truth of this catch-all “festival” is that none of the four pieces will do much to awaken patrons’ festive spirits.
The best of the entries is the Leight exercise, where Tony (Tony Campisi) explains the family history in wars during the final hours before his soldier son is to leave for Iraq. Tony himself drew a low number in the Vietnam lottery and so escaped battlefield horrors, but other relatives (all played strongly by Derek Lucci) did serve, much to the chagrin of the women in the family (all played with sass by Rozie Bacchi). Needless to say, Leight’s quiet anti-war tirade earns points by being topical. The somber sketch also packs quite a jolt in its last line.
There’s a drawback, though. Tony delivers his tale straight to the audience as if it were a slide show, only occasionally yielding the floor to the relatives who step up to substantiate the story. The direct-address approach severely compromises dramatic tension, although the underplayed outrage is still there.
Not much drama happens in Afternoon Tea. James (John Hickok) and Mary (Ann Talman) sit around a small table wearing early 19th-century finery and discussing resumption of a marriage cut off 20 years earlier. Turns out fairly soon that James is playwright James M. Barrie and Mary is Mary Ansell, the spouse who didn’t appreciate taking a back seat to Peter Pan and so divorced her preoccupied mate.
There is a cute fillip in the playlet; every once in a while the hopeful exes break into songs for which Skip Kennon provided the melodies and Machado the prosaic words. They’re nice enough, particularly a finale waltz, and are pleasantly sung by tall and handsome Hickok and cameo-profiled Talman. They don’t, however, approach the level Leonard Bernstein, Moose Charlap, and pals attained with the 1954 Peter Pan score.
On the less-said-the-better front, Real World Experience is one of those dreary sketches featuring an actor (David Marcus) and a playwright (J. J. Kandel) talking tendentiously about their work — although the author has something up his sleeve to change their relationship. The unfunny revelation involves a woman played by leggy Nicole LaLiberte. Why she’s there seems to do with Domitrovich’s spoofing the unreality of reality television, but that’s nowhere near enough fun or clarity to make this one bearable.
Hardly better is Rain, Heavy at Times, in which Bzy (Stephanie Cannon) takes Aunt Margret (Judith Roberts) to cocktails, throughout which they talk at cross purposes and in endless non sequiturs. The reason could be that Margret — much of the time with a blue bra over her blouse — might be in early Alzheimer stages or maybe just congenitally dotty. As for Bzy, she’s merely dissatisfied with her life — but not, mysteriously, with her name. The bickering pair’s drinks are delivered by Harry the bartender (Mark Elliot Wilson), a strapping fellow who evidently has been seeing Bzy on the sly. Nothing really happens during this stretch — with “stretch” being the operative word.
By the way, in Roberts’ program bio, the list of plays she’s appeared in includes William Shakespeare’s Corio Lanus. Whoever typed that had more of a sense of humor than is otherwise on display in this disappointing quartet.