NEW YORK—People look for solace in the most unusual places, but ultimately the choices they make—and the responsibilities for these choices—are theirs and theirs alone. This point clearly comes across in the three one-acts that make up Series B of the annual Summer Shorts series presented by Throughline Artists at 59E59 Theaters.
Lucy Thurber’s “Unstuck” centers around Pete (Alfredo Narciso), deeply depressed, who of late has become a kind of couch potato. He’s also a de facto sounding board for others. His sister Jackie (Lauren Blumenfeld) comes by to show off her latest dance moves, all the while berating him for being unable to make decisions; and friend Sara (Carmen Zilles), a psychologist in training, is trying to come to terms with her narcissistic tendencies while denying she even has them.
Neither of these visits make Pete feel better in the least. His mood further sours by it being his birthday and his live-in girlfriend Deidre (KK Moggie) says they’re drifting apart.
More three extended scenes than a play that really coalesces, the work seems to be saying all one really needs is a kick in the rear and the love of a strong person to make it through tough times.
True, the situation is quite relatable. Who among us hasn’t felt depressed about life not going the way we thought it would? And who hasn’t had terrible doubts about what’s coming just round the bend?
Yet by not having the main character change enough (or at all), the piece just kicks Pete’s problems down the road, where they will almost certainly resurface before long.
Thurber may be trying to point out the dangers of changing only superficially, but the story is far too weak for the audience to care about once the final scene finishes. It doesn’t help matters that the characters are drawn with only the broadest of strokes and not really all that interesting.
Next up is “Built,” written and directed by Robert O’Hara. In a hotel room, Mrs. Black (Merritt Janson) is having an assignation with a male prostitute (Justin Bernegger). She’s a former high school teacher who lost her job a decade ago after having sex with a 15-year-old student named Mason. The now grown-up Mason is the aforementioned prostitute.
In a tale literally crackling with sexual tension, it becomes evident that while Mrs. Black was clearly the responsible party in the eyes of the law, Mason was not a completely innocent party. His actions toward her, as well as those of his parents were a significant factor in how things turned out.
The acting between Janson and Bernegger is excellent. Both play someone trying to come to terms with their pasts.
Unfortunately, although the final moments do reinforce the show’s ultimate message about the need to take control of one’s life, the story is undone by its ending. Given all of what has come before, it seems like a cheat and a bit of a let-down.
‘Love Letters to a Dictator’
Definitely the most introspective piece of the three is Stella Fawn Ragsdale’s “Love Letters to a Dictator.” Stella (Colby Minifie), a woman from East Tennessee, is working on a farm in the Hudson Valley area of New York while having problems with her family back home.
Seeing a picture of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s Supreme Leader in the newspaper, Stella finds herself feeling a kinship with him and writes him a letter. This connection comes from such factors as seeing “something painful” in his eyes and from the fact they both like Elvis Presley.
Surprisingly enough, the dictator writes back and thus begins a correspondence between the two. Stella asks for advice, sends him her picture, and talks about her family life. He responds with comments such as to smite her enemies, honor her mother, and he also mentions the robustness of her appearance.
As time goes on, their relationship becomes more intimate, at least on Stella’s side. This closeness is evidenced not only in the tone of her letters but also in her opening salutation of each succeeding one.
The story is not as far-fetched as it might initially sound. In 1982, 10-year old Samantha Smith wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, then the Premiere of the Soviet Union, who ended up inviting her to Moscow in response.
The play offers an interesting exploration of Stella struggles to figure out if resolving problems with her family means sacrificing the person she’s trying to become.
Minifie does a great job telling the character’s story with these letters, all in a mixture of humor and pain. Direction by Logan Vaughn is also quite good.
Summer Shorts, Series B is a mixed bag of positives and negatives. All are at least a bit thought provoking. They show the need to take personal responsibility for one’s current situation and to use that understanding to move forward with their lives.
Summer Shorts, Series B
59 E. 59th St.
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or 59e59.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission)
Closes: Aug. 29
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.