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June 6, 2017
Review: Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays, Series B
(l-r) Jeff Biehl & Tiffany Villarin in Disney and Fukikawa; Emily Jackson & Lauren Hines in Down Cleghorn; Debargo Sanyal & Curran Connor in Linus and Murray. Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein

A miraculous event in theater occurred when I attended the Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Radio Drama Nework’s presentation of their 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays Series B: Each and every one of the five plays presented was outstanding. Their high caliber was not surprising given the selection was made from over 700 submissions. As if the entertainment value and compelling written word wasn’t enough to keep me satisfied, each play was beautifully staged and delivered by talented and skilled actors, most of them deserving and worthy of a much higher profile stage.

Down Cleghorn, written by Julia Specht and directed by Ralph Peña, was a very comfortable way to start the evening, in what begins as a seemingly normal pop-in from mom on a Saturday afternoon in Central Massachusetts, then turns into an intriguing reveal of childhood secrets, layer by layer. Complete with denial, self-centeredness, self-protection, and love, the natural and realistic performances, particularly by Emily Jackson as Jezebel, set the bar high for the rest of the evening.

Falling Away, written by Christopher Shinn and directed by Mark Armstrong, had an avant garde feel in its language placed in juxtaposition by its very relatable characters and simple staging. With two people in love discussing the possibility of a future together if only she would leave her husband, Shinn subtly explores loyalty and fear.

Linus and Murray, written by Leah Nanako Winkler and directed by RJ Tolan, had us believing that Curran Connor really was Murray the dog and Debargo Sanyal really was Linus the cat. Not only was Winkler’s language from the animal’s perspective simply adorable to any cat or dog lover, but the physicality and interpretation of a dog or cat personality by both actors was utterly magnificent. Winkler cleverly explores the universal theme of relationships with both gravitas and comedy, superbly supported by Tolan’s intuitive and sensitive direction.

(l-r) Sara Bues & Charles Socarides in Falling Away; Lynnette R. Freeman & Joe Holt in On the Outs. Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein

Disney and Fujikawa, written by Lloyd Suh and directed by Linsay Firman, takes us back to 1942 to witness an uncomfortable conversation between a Japanese-American illustrator, Gyo Fujikawa, and Walt Disney. The conversation turns from employment opportunity to American ideals, power, racism, and helplessness. Suh provides incredibly natural dialogue that is exquisitely delivered by Tiffany Villarin as Fujikawa, and Jeff Biehl as the famed Walt Disney is powerful to watch. Excellent direction by Firman created a flawless production honoring Suh’s written words and intent.

On the Outs, written by Christina Gorman and directed by David Auburn, was compelling from start to finish. The plays tells the story of a man released from jail after nearly two decades and his struggle to adapt to his new-found freedom, the pressure to begin a relationship with the daughter he never knew, and the difficulty of falling asleep without having an enforced “lockdown”. Shawn Randall as ex-con Jonas breaks our hearts with a realistic and understated performance, as does Lynnette R Freeman, whose strength and genuineness draw you in for the ride. Gorman’s script is intelligent and lovingly complemented by Auburn’s tender direction.


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Q&A: Playwrights of the EST Marathon of One-Act Plays Discuss Their Work – Part 2

By Ariana Rudes

Ensemble Studio Theatre has been holding their marathon of one-act plays since 1977. Now in the second series of their 36th year (with one more still to come!), they’re offering a myriad of exciting and innovative work by playwrights Lloyd Suh, Christopher Shinn, Julia Specht, Christina Gorman, and Leah Nanako Winkler. We got the chance to chat with the writers about their plays, the festival, and their work at large. Check out the interviews below! Julia Specht, Down Cleghorn Tell us about your play! It’s about two sisters who are trying to make a tuna casserole to grieve the recent passing of someone they knew well, but their mother is interfering. It’s mostly funny! As a playwright, what are the challenges and rewards of working in the one-act medium? You have to be brutal with your story, which is both a challenge and a reward! There’s no room to let the narrative get baggy because you have less than 30 minutes. Because you have to keep it so tight, you can give the audience a lot in a really short time, which is a gratifying feeling. What inspired you to write this play? Do you find yourself returning to similar ideas/themes in your work? I initially wrote this play for the Bo …Read more

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Written by: Tania Fisher
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