Theater Review: Summer Shorts 2013, Series A

Entertaining, with a few hiccups
By Judd Hollander
Judd Hollander
Judd Hollander
August 22, 2013 Updated: August 22, 2013

NEW YORK—Series A of Summer Shorts 2013 offers a mixed bag of entertainment with the two bookends to the evening working a lot better than the middle portion. This collection of one-acts is presented by Throughline Artists at 59E59 Theaters.

‘Breaking the Spell’

The final work in the series is Tina Howe’s very enjoyable “Breaking the Spell,” a riff on the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty.”

In Merrie Olde England, The King (Michael Countryman) sits quietly in a bedchamber where his daughter, Christabel (Crystal Finn), has been sleeping for nearly 100 years due to a witch’s curse.

With The King is his Poor Wretched Fool (Evan Shinners). Once Christabel’s childhood sweetheart, he can now only speak some type of gibberish.

In a last, desperate attempt to break the spell, The King sends an Internet text message—one of several such anachronisms—inviting musicians from all over the world to try to awaken his daughter.

The music runs the gamut from sitar to saxophone, the latter instrument winningly performed by Jesse Scheinin. There’s also a wandering troubadour from Marin Country named Bobby Love (Shinners).

With an underlying theme of love conquers all, “Breaking the Spell” is quite a lot of fun. Countryman in particular delivers his performance in a nicely dry and pompous manner.

Shinners and Scheinin do excellent work as multiple characters who provide musical accompaniment, and Finn is fine as Christabel.

The story is also well-directed by Birgitta Victorson. Assistant director is Isabel Thornton.

‘Good Luck (in Farsi)’

First up is Neil LaBute’s “Good Luck (in Farsi)” where two somewhat similarly looking actresses, Kate (Gia Crovatin) and Page (Elizabeth Masucci), meet at an audition, both ladies being up for the same part.

As they wait, the two engage in a series of backhanded comments and veiled insults. This repartee happens while Kate goes through an elaborate preparation routine, which includes facial gestures and various sounds.

Each lady attempts to get the upper hand while trying to undermine the other’s confidence. For example, part of the dialogue for the audition is written in Farsi, but only Kate has actually learned the language.

On the other hand, Kate only has the pages they are to read on which to base her characterization, but Page has gotten the entire script through her agent. Thus Page knows critical things about the character that Kate does not.

Between the women’s attempts to make the other second-guess herself, the two begin to bond over the problems actresses often encounter while trying to sell themselves for a role.

A wry satire in regard to an often cutthroat process, “Good Luck (in Farsi)” is certainly amusing, and Crovatin and Masucci play off each other quite well.

In a nice touch, Kate, initially seeming a bit of an airhead, is actually the more venal of the two. Page, the more experienced and established actress, might just turn out to be a bit too trusting for her own good.

LaBute nicely directs his own work here, though the piece could use cutting to make it move a touch faster. Also in the cast is Molly Logan Chase.

‘About a Woman Named Sarah’

The middle piece, Lucas Hnath’s “About a Woman Named Sarah,” is a tale based on actual events and therein lies its fascination as well as its problem.

Set in 2008, the work explores the process by which Republican presidential candidate John McCain (Mark Elliot Wilson) chose Sarah Palin (Marisa Viola), governor of Alaska, as his vice presidential running mate.

The play is basically a series of two-person conversations involving McCain, Palin, John’s wife, Cindy (Stephanie Cannon), and Sarah’s husband, Todd (Ben Vigus). However, the conversations never go deep enough. The dialogue stops and starts at the drop of a hat, or in this case, the sound of a clicker.

While the show is not really dated per se, knowing the outcome of what’s presented makes it necessary to see why certain events happened rather than simply that they happened; a fuller explanation without the use of throwaway lines or quick jokes would have made the entire play work better.

There is a moment when Viola as Sarah is trying to explain her reasons for accepting the nomination, which the actress does eloquently—only to have the mood broken by a quick joke from Vigus as Todd, which basically negates the intensity Viola just created.

There’s nice acting by all, but the work is very short on substance. Directed by Eric Hoff.

Not a perfect triple play by any means, Summer Shorts 2013, Series A still makes for an amusing experience.

Summer Shorts 2013, Series A
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or visit www.ticketcentral.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Closes: Aug. 30

Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.

Judd Hollander
Judd Hollander