Summer Shorts 3: Series A -- Theater Review

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
In its third year, this summer series of shorter works remains a hit-or-miss affair, with a new offering from Neil LaBute the standout of "Series A."

Things get off to a shaky start with writer-actor Nancy Giles' monologue "Things My Afro Taught Me." A winning, charismatic performer, Giles at first seems ill at ease in a chair (Maruti Evans' scuffed black set looks painfully cheap) and talking about her struggles to accept her wild hair. But she gradually stands up and warms up, and an extended riff on a former boss at Lifetime is hilariously dead-on. Closing the first act, John Augustine's meandering comic drama "Death by Chocolate," about a woman dealing with the aftermath of her husband's titular demise, repeats many of the same diatribes against the isolation caused by technology that the playwright covered in "People Speak," part of "Summer Shorts 2."

Sherry Anderson and Mary Joy, standouts in last year's series, deliver off-pitch performances under Robert Saxner's direction, respectively coming across as whiny and shrill. But Aaron Paternoster shines in his multiple roles as the men in their lives.

The evening kicks into high gear with LaBute's "A Second of Pleasure," which happily finds the playwright writing about real adults instead of callow youths. As lovers arguing at the train station over whether she'll accompany him on a romantic getaway, Margaret Colin and Victor Slezak are superb. Colin in particular takes LaBute's newly mature material and runs with it, turning in a witty, rueful performance under Andrew McCarthy's direction.

The evening ends with Skip Kennon and Bill Connington's tone-deaf period musical "The Eternal Anniversary," a mind-boggling affair filled with more than its share of glaring plot holes. Preparing a lovely meal for their 20th anniversary, Tom (Robert W. DuSold) eventually accuses his lovely, ethereal wife, Sara (Leenya Rideout), of having an affair years earlier. She claims she went to her sister's and left him a note; he insists she abandoned him on their anniversary for her lover. The twist ending can be seen a mile off, and Kennon's songs, which the actors deliver with vibrato-laced overenunciation, rely heavily on life/wife rhyme schemes. Lacking tension, surprise and common sense, "Eternal Anniversary" threatens to turn into the eternal musical.

Venue: 59E59 Theaters, New York (Through Aug. 25)
Cast: Nancy Giles, Sherry Anderson, Mary Joy, Aaron Paternoster, Margaret Colin, Victor Slezak, Robert W. DeSold, Leenya Rideout
Playwrights: Nancy Giles, John Augustine, Neil LaBute, Bill Connington
Music-lyrics: Skip Kennon
Directors: Robert Saxner, Andrew McCarthy, Thomas Caruso
Set designer/lighting desinger: Maruti Evans
Costume designer: Michael Bevins
Sound designer: Tim Pioppo
Casting: Billy Hopkins and Jessica Kelly
comments powered by Disqus