The work on display by Neil LaBute, Matthew Lopez and Vicki Ramirez at 59E59 Theaters' Summer Shorts series proves why these playwrights are the voices of contemporary American theatre. LaBute, the biggest star of the three, is the series’ big draw and 10K, written and directed by him, does not disappoint.
The story of 10K, which takes the audience on a run through the woods with two suburbanites in search of soul mates outside of their respective marriages, is a bit heavy-handed with the metaphor of running, but mostly works because of some very ‘active’ performances by J.J. Kandel and Clea Aslip. Both the actors not only jog through most of the 30-minute play, they do so without losing lines or their characters’ motivations. Every gesture and movement, in a play that is full of physical cues, leads the audience to see two fully realized people, reaching for a life they can desire, but not quite inhabit.
In Vickie Ramirez's Glenburn 12 WP, my favorite play of the night, the characters' lives are rooted in desire as well – a desire to be more than the stereotypes their identities afford them. African American Troy and Native American Roberta collide in a bar that has no bartender. They pour drinks and discuss politics, science and the nature of white privilege. As their conversation unfolds, we become intimately acquainted with two “brown kids,” and the ways in which they tried to “get out” of their inescapable pasts. Glenburn 12 WP is a powerful tale that reveals character while creating social commentary.
Characters are at the heart of Sentinel, a touching if somewhat overly-ambitious play by Matthew Lopez. Getting to know four characters over the course of thirty minutes is no easy feat. Add to that, they’re all 9/11 widows and it suddenly starts to feel like a full-length production being workshopped. If it weren’t for a stellar ensemble cast, with a particularly excellent Kellie Overbey (whose grieving widow, whiskey in hand, says about honoring her late husband’s memory, “I’m raising his two daughters, I don’t owe him anything”), this summer short could have felt quite long.
The reason these shorts are so successful even though they are anything but summery (themes include adultery, racism and grief) is that despair is conveyed with a light hand. There is an ease in each short, partly due to no-fuss direction, and partly due to the playwrights’ and actors’ understanding that sadness, when inserted into real life situations with real characters, is only a sense, a temporality that lingers. As it is in our nature to hurt and be hurt, the shorts reveal, it is also in our nature to move on to the next story.