Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Shorts 3: Series B


Don't Say Another Word by Carole Real, directed by Ian Belknap; The Sin Eater by Keith Reddin, directed by Billy Hopkins; If I Had by Roger Hedden, directed by Billy Hopkins; The Killing by William Inge, directed by Jose Angel Santana. 59E59. (CLOSED)

Series B fares better with critics, by and large, than Series A, with special attention lavished on the professional premiere of The Killing, William Inge's pained, and painfully prescient, one-act. Apart from Bloomberg's John Simon and That Sounds Cool's Aaron Riccio (whose low grades drag down the overall average), most critics find it to be the evening's highlight. Nearly all agree strongly that Keith Reddin's reimagining of the Electra story, The Sin Eater, is a major misstep, while they dissent on whether Carole Real's Don't Say Another Word is engagingly slight or just flimsy, and on whether Roger Hedden's If I Had is a bracing class study or a throwaway. Did we mention that Aaron Riccio didn't much care for this evening?

The New York Times B+
(Ken Jaworowski) Series B of Summer Shorts 3...on the whole...acquits itself better than Series A, with which it runs in repertory at 59E59 Theaters. The first piece, Carole Real’s “Don’t Say Another Word,” stays true to its title, jumping into a couple’s droll conversation just as the going gets good, and leaving as soon as the jokes run dry. Straightforward and enjoyable, it’s a smart way to begin a collection of one-acts. “The Sin Eater” by Keith Reddin, however, is imprudent on every level. A modern retelling of “Electra,” it is misguided in concept (the original is too wide-ranging to be raced through in a brief time) and execution (the clichéd dialogue is delivered in a mishmash of styles). A sharper use of the short form can be found in “If I Had,” Roger Hedden’s tale of two landscapers...The play delivers quite a bit: a little risk, a couple of laughs and an idea or two to consider. While it’s not a flawless work, its efforts are certainly worthwhile. Then comes “The Killing"...José Angel Santana’s direction is wisely restrained, and the two actors deliver truly heartbreaking performances. “The Killing,” a superb piece of theater, is given an intelligent production here. It’s a story of loneliness and great pain, one that explores the saddest parts of the soul.

Backstage B+
(David Sheward) If there's a theme running through the four one-acts comprising "Summer Shorts 3: Series B," it's miscommunication—between lovers, families, friends, and strangers. Each playlet approaches the problem in a different format: comedy sketch, Greek tragedy, arch character study, and kitchen-sink realism. The result is a mixed bag, but the conflicts mostly come through loud and clear thanks to clean, spare direction and acting..."The Killing" is chiefly valuable as a new addition to the canon of one of America's underappreciated playwrights, but the performances make it worth seeing.

Nytheatre.com B
(Jo Ann Rosen) Of the four short plays in Series B, three showcase savvy direction, nuanced acting, and simple, targeted writing—the kind that defines good theatre...Only The Sin Eater, by Keith Reddin, left me perplexed...The story, as presented, feels undeveloped and the characters seem like stereotypes, each popping up spontaneously as if he or she were an afterthought. Also, there is a feeling of recitation about the play...Three out of four is very good, and those three are well worth the ticket.

Theatermania B-
(Dan Balcazo) William Inge's never-before-produced one-act "The Killing" is the main reason to see Summer Shorts 3 Series B...The situation could easily tip over into melodrama, but director Jose Angel Santana's perfectly modulated production keeps the action grounded. He elicits nuanced performances from his two actors, with Huff exuding a quiet desperation and Kandel speaking in slow, measured tones that give weight to the crucial choice his character must eventually make. The remaining pieces in the program are of varying quality. Roger Hedden's "If I Had" shows potential...but the ending feels a little rushed...The curtain-raiser, "Don't Say Another Word," by Carole Real, rehashes the main theme recently explored (to better effect) in Neil LaBute's reasons to be pretty...The weakest entry in the program is also the longest: Keith Reddin's "The Sin Eater," which riffs on the story of Electra and Orestes...Perhaps the play is meant to be a parody -- and might work better as such -- but director Billy Hopkins' production seems overly earnest.

Lighting & Sound America C+
(David Barbour) "The Killing" isn't a really good play -- the plotting, especially regarding hiding the evidence, is illogical and the dialogue is pretty stiff at times -- but it offers a fascinating inside view of the demons that tormented this fine writer...Under Jose Angel Santana's highly controlled direction, the piece achieves an intensity that's far beyond anything in the rest of the series...On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's "The Sin Eater," a disastrous attempt at relocating Electra in a modern urban setting...I'm a fan of the Summer Shorts series, but I must admit that this year's haul is a bit thin. Here's hoping the producers spend some profitable time reading plays during the winter months.

New York Post C
(Frank Scheck) "The Killing" -- about a despondent, religious man who asks a young drifter to murder him -- is hardly first-rate Inge. Still, it's a fascinating rediscovery that's only now receiving its world premiere. Staged with real tension by Jose Angel Santana and superbly acted by Neal Huff and J.J. Kandel, it also has an eerie resonance today, decades after Inge, a closeted homosexual, committed suicide. Otherwise, this is a dispiritingly lackluster assembleage.

Bloomberg News D
(John Simon) “Don’t Say Another Word” [is] a harmless trifle over in a few minutes...Andy Grotelueschen and Stephanie D’Abruzzo are up to the modest demands. “The Sin Eater,” by the erratic but generally much better Keith Reddin, is a catastrophe...The dialogue is doggedly inept, Billy Hopkins’s direction of no help, the acting (with producer Kandel as the gun-toting cop) poor to disastrous...“If I Had,” by Roger Hedden, though negligible, is not without some bright comic moments...Shane McRae, Andy Powers and Emily Tremaine thrive under Hopkins’s here more acceptable direction. The supposed piece de resistance, William Inge’s newly unearthed “The Killing,” is remarkably resistible...There is no surprise ending, unless it is that Inge, himself an eventual suicide, should have written so dreary a play.

That Sounds Cool F+
(Aaron Riccio) Four lazily written, lazily directed, and lazily acted shows...Carole Real's Don't Say Another Word at least takes its own advice. At under ten minutes it's not able to define its characters or their relationship, but it isn't able to offend anyone, either...The Sin Eater, on the other hand, has high stakes...The only thing Reddin has going for him is the good casting of Coleman, and the abysmal casting of Daniels who, thankfully, will soon be in high school, at which point we can take the kid gloves off. As a director, Billy Hopkins has better luck with Roger Hedden's If I Had...The real insult of the night is William Inge's The Killing. Inge's been dead since 1973, this play qualifies as a "new American short" only in the sense that it has never been produced before. And with good reason: there's little drama in the tired back-and-forth of a man who wants to die and a man who is reluctant to kill him...Summer Shorts 3 is just a cruel waste of a summer's day.

The New York Times B+ 11; Backstage B+ 11; Nytheatre.com B 10; Theatermania B- 9; LS&A C+ 8; New York Post C 7; Bloomberg News D 4; That Sounds Cool F+ 2; 62/8=7.75 (C+)

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