Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Summer Shorts, Series B" - An Exploration of Relationships

By Judd Hollander
Photos by Carol Rosegg

Personal interactions are the key element in Series B of 59E59 Theater's annual Summer Shorts program. Consisting of three separate one-act works, all by different writers and all with a different director and cast, each of the pieces insightfully explores issues of maturity, change and emotional baggage.  Each piece also looks at people at different stages of life.

Things start off with Falling Short by Marian Fontana. Lee (Kendra Mylnechuk), a New York writer in her early 40s and a long-time widow is trying to get back into the dating game. Though she has the support of her family in this endeavor, she keeps running into one loser after another, all hilariously portrayed by Shane Patrick Kearns, on the dating website she frequents. However, one specific entry does receive her attention, Nate (J.J. Kandel), a thirty-something recently-separated actor who's currently working at a Renaissance Faire. After their first date gets off on the wrong foot, Nate arriving 23 minutes late for dinner at a Brooklyn restaurant, things go from bad to worse when it becomes clear that Nate lied in his on-line profile. Yet as the evening goes on Lee finds, to her great surprise, that she's unexpectedly drawn to this man. Especially when it's revealed she and Nate have both suffered great personal tragedies, and also that Nate isn't the only one who lied, or at least omitted certain things in the dating profile.

Both cute and funny, Falling Short offers some interesting situations when it comes to issues of love, loss and moving on, even though the show's ending is somewhat ambiguous. While both Kandel and Mylnechuk do a good job with their respective roles, the character definition is at times too one-dimensional. Thus one never feels more than a passing interest for the people involved. High marks must go to Kearns, who nearly steals the show in his role as Eric, a gay waiter who commiserates with Lee on the problems of finding a stable and happy relationship while she's waiting for Nate to make his belated appearance. Falling Short is directed by Alexander Dinelaris.

Next up is Paul Weitz's Change. The action takes place in the home of Ted (Alex Manette), and Carla (Allison Daugherty), a long-time and well-off married couple in their mid-forties who are seeing their old friend Jordan (Michael D. Dempsey) for the first time in about two decades. Jordan, who has just gotten out of rehab, has been involved with drugs since the trio's college days and also used to be Carla's boyfriend. During their verbal reminisces, Jordan wonders if Ted and Carla want to revisit their illegal substance days and offers to score some weed if they front him the money. After a bit of half-hearted hemming and hawing, Carla and Ted agree. However what Jordan returns with is something far stronger, the result leading to old feelings, sexual and emotional, coming to the fore, as well as the ironic realization that it's Jordan who may actually be the most mature and together person of the trio.

Interesting to a point, and a play which could easily have been presented as low comedy, high drama or a complete farce, the playwright and director Billy Hopkins seeming to go for something in-between all three; the central idea suffers due to a serious lack of characterization, with all three persons coming off as too shallow to really care about. A chief problem is Ted and Carla's unwillingness to take a stand on anything. Rather they continually pass decisions back and forth, each seeing how far the other will go or perhaps hoping the other will say "no" and bring everyone back to reality. Their overall behavior is also rather strange since their children happen to be asleep in the next room. A fact brought up constantly, lest anyone forgets.

The acting by Manette, Dempsey and Daugherty is okay, if nothing special. Though the comedic moments, especially those by Daugherty when her character is in the midst of a drug-induced haze, work far better than the dramatic ones.

The final piece of this collection, and by far the most poignant, is Alan Zweibel's Pine Cone Moment. A play about two elderly people experiencing what may very well be their last chance at love. That is, if they can find a way to leave their baggage from the past behind.

Harry (Brian Reddy), a widower for the past seven years, has been carrying on a clandestine and so far platonic affair with Emma (Caroline Lagerfelt), the wife of his deceased best friend. Now, Harry wants to take their relationship to the next level with a weekend trip together. However Emma isn't sure she's ready to for that, especially since her late husband Barry (James Murtaugh) is still constantly in her thoughts, even though he's urging her to move on and begin again. At the same time, Harry isn't completely free of his own former spouse, the overbearing Bunny (Camille Saviola), who ran roughshod over their entire marriage, with Harry always giving in simply because it was easier than to put up any kind of fight. Yet Harry now finds that need to take the easy way out preventing him from pursuing a future with Emma and it may take more than one otherworldly intervention to ultimately turn the tide.

Interspersed with flashbacks when Barry and Bunny were alive, Pine Cone Moment shows how marriages are shaped by how much effort one puts into them. All four actors play their roles very well. Reddy is especially good as a man wanting to come out of his shell for the first time in decades, but terrified to try to become the person Emma wants him to be, and the person Barry knows he can be. Lagerfelt strikes the right note as someone holding too tightly to the past, while Murtaugh does well as the wise husband who understands quite well the needs of the living. Saviloa's performance is a bit hamstrung by her rather stereotypical character, but it's both funny and realistic enough to work perfectly in the premise the playwright has set up.

Funny, touching and with a couple of gentle life lessons tossed in, Summer Shorts, Series B makes for an interesting and overly pleasant pastime.

Summer Shorts, Series B

Falling Short
Featuring: Kendra Mylnechuk (Lee), Shane Patrick Kearns (Eric, Others), J.J. Kandel (Nate)

Written by Marian Fontana
Directed by Alexander Dinelaris
Assistant Director: Isabel Carter

Featuring: Alex Manette (Ted), Michael D. Dempsey (Jordan), Allison Daugherty (Carla)

Written by Paul Weitz
Directed by Billy Hopkins
Assistant Director: David Friedman

Pine Cone Moment
Featuring: Brian Reddy (Harry), Caroline Lagerfelt (Emma), James Murtaugh (Barry), Camille Saviola (Bunny)

Written by Alan Zweibel
Directed by Fred Berner
Assistant Director: Megan Correia
Choreographer: Deanna Dys

Set Design: George Xenos
Lighting Design: Greg MacPherson

Sound Design: Marios Aristopoulos
Costume Design: Tamara Menear
Production Manager/Assistant Stage Manager: Mark Karafin
Jenna Lazar: Assistant Stage Manager

Wardrobe Supervisor: Megan Parker
Technical Director: Bob Teague
Casting: Billy Hopkins
Casting Assistant: Ashley Ingram
Press Representative: David Gersten & Associates, David J. Gersten/Daniel Demello
Production Stage Manager: Dee Dee Katchen
Producing Organization: Throughline Artists

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or
Information: or
Running Time: 1 hours, 40 minutes with one intermission
Closes: August 31, 2013

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