Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: AN ECLECTIC EVENING OF SHORTS VII: BOXERS AND BRIEFS (Theater 54 @ Shelter Studios)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on April 17, 2014

in Theater-New York

SOME ARE TKO’S, SOME SHOULD BE BRIEFER

"Mistress Marlene" by Margo Hammond, Directed by Alex Dmitriev, with Tim Barker & Susanne Marley - photo by Caitlin Venedam.The first play featured in this annual showcase of ten-minute plays by emerging writers, An Eclectic Evening of Shorts VII: Boxers and Briefs, is Margo Hammond’s humorous Mistress Marlene, directed by Alex Dmitriev. Bill, an electrician (a disarming Tim Barker), arrives at his elderly client Sandra’s (a naturalistic Susanne Marley) house and hands her a letter from his dominatrix, which states that he should do whatever job Sandra orders him to do and to do it to Sandra’s complete satisfaction. There aren’t many twists in this matriarchal fantasy piece and not much is explored below the surface. But the work is amusing, often funny, with capable performers bringing its fantastic premise down closer to earth.

"Memoir" by Donald Steele, Directed by Katie McHugh, with Michael Boonstra & Ruth Sherman - photo by Caitlin Venedam.Donald Steele’s Memoir, directed by Katie McHugh, starts with Wayne (Michael Boonstra), an older man, sitting behind a laptop and crumbling up sheets of paper from a legal pad – the universal sign to indicate that he’s having writer’s block. Thankfully, as we quickly learn, he is not in fact a writer but a former U.S. Senator who is having trouble penning his memoire. As he tells his wife Beverly (Ruth Sherman), his life was too boring. But perhaps it wasn’t as boring as all that, for we soon discover it was peppered with dozens, if not hundreds, of infidelities. On the one hand Beverley’s even-keeled reaction to these revelations is refreshing to see. On the other the couple’s relatively casual attitude about the affairs dampens the drama.

"Roast Beef and the Rare Kiss" by Gregory Fletcher, Directed by Troy Miller, with Bridget Ori, David Marshall, Leigh Dunham, and Nicholas Cocchetto - photo by Jonathan J. Johnson.One of the standouts of the evening is Gregory Fletcher’s Roast Beef and the Rare Kiss, directed by Troy Miller. Alan (David Marshall) and Paula (Bridget Ori) share a spontaneous kiss at dinner and it sparkles, just like in high school. The problem is they’re each part of a different couple, and their other halves – Dee (Leigh Dunham) and Tim (Nicholas Cocchetto) – are fussing with popcorn and wine in the kitchen. The theme of the magical yet fleeting moment that is so seductive and yet impossible to prolong fits snugly within the parameters of Mr. Fletcher’s short play. He creates an impression, a bittersweet and delightful one, that is lovingly brought to life with capable direction and a charming and sympathetic cast.

"A Visit Home" by Jeffrey Sweet, directed by Tonya Pinkins, with Jane Summerhayes, Dawn Evans, Mary Archbold - photo by Caitlin Venedam.The other standout is Jeffrey Sweet’s A Visit Home, deftly directed by Tonya Pinkins, about a mother, Lillian (Jane Summerhays), who goes away to Atlantic City for the weekend, leaving her two middle-aged daughters, Dana (Dawn Evans) and Connie (Mary Archbold), to look after their low-end motel. Textured performances lend authenticity to this tale of life’s stagnation, and the prisons of routine and fear in which its characters live. There is starting material here for a full-length play, and if Mr. Sweet chooses to write it I’d love to see it.

"Rainman" by Nambi E. Kelley, directed by Ebony Noelle Golden, with Warren Jackson & C. Kelly Wright - photo by Caitlin Venedam.Nambi E. Kelley’s Rainman, directed by Ebony Noelle Golden, starts off well-enough, with a 16-year-old black inner-city hoodlum Aaron (Warren Jackson) caught in the rain who imagines he sees beautiful hookers across the street but instead finds only Neena (C. Kelly Wright), a ragged, middle-aged homeless woman. Both performers deliver powerful renditions and the language feels appropriately aggressive. Unfortunately, just past its middle the play becomes unbearably sentimental and agenda-driven, and Neena’s back story, which is at the center of the problem, is unbelievable.

"Mandate" by Kelly Younger, directed by Janice L. Goldberg, with Craig Fitzpatrick & Jared Wilder - photo by Caitlin Venedam.Kelly Younger’s Mandate, directed by Janice L. Goldberg, tries to capture the awkwardness two married heterosexual guys, Mark (Craig Fitzpatrick) and Drew (Jared Wilder), feel on their friend-date which their wives have set up. While sometimes amusing and boasting a number of comical observations, Mandate too often feels more like a comedy skit than a play, with a bit too much emphasis on caricature and not enough on organic interaction.

photos by Caitlin Venedam and Jonathan J. Johnson

An Eclectic Evening of Shorts VII: Boxers & Briefs
Artistic New Directions (AND)
Theatre 54 @ Shetler Studios
244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor
closed on April 13, 2014
for more info, visit www.artisticnewdirections.org

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