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Friday
Jun192015

FROM QUIZ SHOW TO BALLET // A THEATRE REVIEW OF "EST'S 35TH MARATHON OF ONE-ACT PLAYS: SERIES A"

BY MATEO MORENO

Big things can indeed come in small packages. That’s the mode of thinking in the yearly MARATHON OF ONE-ACT PLAYS at Ensemble Studio Theatre. Ensemble Studio Theatre, or EST for short, has a lot to brag about these days. They recently received a special Drama Desk Award for their “unwavering commitment to producing new works.” In 2014 their show Year of the Rooster won the 2014 NY Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for a new playwriting debut. And most recently, and most successfully, Hand To God, which premiered originally at EST in October 2014 before moving to an Off-Broadway run at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2014, has opened to raves on Broadway and was nominated for 5 Tony Awards. Bragging rights are well deserved. Each summer they put on their Marathon of One-Act Plays and divide them into sections. Here we’ll cover SERIES A which consists of five one acts by five different authors (follow the following links to see my reviews of Series B and Series C).

 

Staring off the evening is a short musical I Battled Lenny Ross. With a book by Anne Ziegler and Lyrics & Music by Matt Schatz, Lenny explores the true life story of Leonard Ross, a real life quiz kid winner who rose to fame by winning quiz shows in the 1950’s. At 10 he won $100,000 on “The Big Surprise” and at 11 he won the grand prize on “The $64,000 challenge.” The musical focuses on the interview young Lenny (played by Jake Kitchin) gave to Mike Wallace (Aaron Serotsky) shortly after winning “The 64,000 challenge.” The musical is charming, as are the lyrics and music, and Serotsky is great as Mike Wallace. But it only is a charming beginning. It feels well undercooked, but not necessarily in a bad way. We just need to see more of it. Hopefully the creative team will continue to work on it and present it with a longer running time, and longer songs as well. Most songs clocked in around a minute or so.

 

52nd to Bowery to Cobble Hill, in Brooklyn, by Chiara Atik (Five Times in One Night) is short, to the point, and works extremely well. We meet Halle (Megan Tusing) and Alison (Molly Carden) shortly after they exit a party. Both girls know each other but on if they’re friends or not? Well, that depends on who you ask. Halle grabs a cab and Alison quickly catches her, asking if she can share the ride. So both girls head off into the night, where a very talkative Alison tries to engage a much more quiet Halle with talk of the selling of her app, why they don’t hang out more often, and more. It’s a realistic, funny, and somewhat sad telling of two personalities in New York that won’t ever be friends, no matter how hard one may try. Much credit goes to the two actresses Tusing and Carden. Both are equally great and their comic timing is fantastic. 

 

The Big Man was a fascinating look into an interaction with two officers at a police station in Kenya and a white man living there trying to get his truck back. Gabe (Gianmarco Soresi) is a American working in Kenya who comes to the station to get his truck back, which has been towed. He, at first, tries to reason with the officers (magnificently played by Brian D. Coats and Ray Anthony Thomas) but soon realizes he is not going to get his way; he wants it now, they say to come back in the morning. After going into a tirade of how unjust the country and their policies and police procedures are, the officers (who up until now have seen to be goofy, uninformed men) point the mirror back at him, telling the know it all American just how much they know about their own country and their attitude towards justice. It’s a fascinating piece, with wonderful dialogue from Will Snider and beautifully directed by Matt Penn. Soresi does a fine job and is compelling, but Coats and Thomas are the true stars of this scene. Never do they feel as if they’re acting. They simply inhabit these characters and are raw, compelling, and ferocious in their approach.

 

Silver Men by Amy Fox chronicles the funeral of a man who one day decided to paint his barn pink and threw his entire family into a loop. His father Wilson (David Marguiles) doesn’t understand what happened. His son Matthew (Tommy Heleringer) sits outside chatting with his Grandfather. Though Marguiles and Heleringer are both strong actors, the piece felt a bit choppy, and on the night I saw it, very sloppy. Several lines dropped, long pauses that weren’t supposed to be there. It’s a good base idea but needs some retooling.

 

Finally closing out the evening is Mariah MacCarthy’s Until She Claws Her Way Out. Naomi Kakuk plays Elissa, a ballet dancer describing a very abusive an dysfunctional relationship. MacCarthy’s dialogue is fresh and strong, peeling away the layers of abuse in a very powerful way. Yet the actress Kakuk, though close, isn’t quite up for the dramatic text. She’s good, but MacCarthy’s scene should have someone who’s great. The abusive boyfriend Max (Kit Treece) enters, circling her throughout her monologue. Never speaking, only watching until they break out into a sometimes beautiful, sometimes sexy, and often violent dance, sharply choreographed by Director Sidney Erik Wright. It’s powerful, and mostly makes up for the moments Kakuk didn’t quite get to in the beginning. It ends poetically and sad. We’ve seen abuse in front of us, but she looks happy. It’s haunting, and stays with you long after the end.

 

MATEO'S GRADES: I BATTLED LENNY ROSS: B+, 52ND STREET TO BOWERY TO COBBLE HILL IN BROOKLYN: A-, THE BIG MAN: A-, SILVER MEN: C, UNTIL SHE CLAWS HER WAY OUT: A- 

 

Written by Anna Ziegler, Chiara Atik, Will Snider, Amy Fox, & Mariah MacCarthy Music & Lyrics (for I Battled Lenny Ross) by Matt Schatz Directed by: Daniella Topol, Adrienne Campbell-Holt, Matt Penn, Matt Dickson, & Sidney Erik Wright. Featuring: Jake Kitchin, Aaron Serotsky, Olli Haaskivin, Julie Fitzpatrick, Megan Tusing, Molly Carden, Gianmarco Soresi, Brian Coats, Ray Anthony Thomas, Catherine Curtin, Tommy Heleringer, David Margulies, Naomi Kakuk, Kit Treece Choreography (for Until She Claws Her Eyes Out) by: Sidney Erik Wright

MATEO MORENO recently won a bet on who could hold their breath the longest underwater. He won the bet, having beat local loudmouth Jimmy "Thunderbird" Thomas with a record breaking "fourteen minutes." True, part of that time was him unconscious and the other part was him being revived, but he still counts it, and is now $20 richer. Take THAT Thunderbird! He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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