August 16, 2008

The Tiny Pleasures of "Summer Shorts 2"

It’s festival season in New York. And that means adventurous theatergoers are in the midst of a summer-long smorgasbord of new and avantgarde plays and musicals. I made it to The Bacchae at the Lincoln Center Festival but passed on its Beckett trilogy. I missed the Summer Play Festival that showcased emerging writers and directors at the Public Theater last month but I’m planning to catch at least one show in The New York International Fringe Festival that started last week. I confess I don’t know anything about the American Living Room’s performance arts fest currently at the Here Arts Center but I’m looking forward to the New York Musical Theatre Festival that starts next month. And last night, my buddy Bill and I went to the first half of Summer Shorts 2, the festival of eight new short plays that is running through Aug. 28 at the 59E59 Theaters. (Click here to read a roundtable discussion with four festival directors.)

This is just the second year for Summer Shorts but it’s clearly caught on because the performance we attended was sold out and the hum of self-satisfaction that's always detectable at a cool event vibrated t
hrough the crowd. Almost as if to confirm the show’s hip status, a recording by the eternally-hip Miles Davis played over the sound system as audience members settled into their seats and later while the two-person stage crew changed props between scenes.

There are two programs of plays being performed in Summer Shorts 2 and the one we saw, Series A, includes works by the playwrights Leslie Lyles, Eduardo Machado, Neil Koenigsberg and Roger Hedden. Their works range from a tragic monologue to a four-person social satire. All four were nicely directed and, for the most part, ably acted but, as Bill observed, none seemed any more substantial than the kind of character
studies you might find being performed in just about any acting class.

Which doe
sn’t mean they weren’t diverting. The crowd-pleaser was Koenigsberg’s On A Bench, an encounter between a young affluent man (David Beck) and an older working class woman (Mary Joy) who meet on a bench across the street from the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. But I was most taken by Amy Irving’s performance in Lyles’ The Waters of March which almost connected the dots in a lightly etched tale about a failed lounge singer and made me curious about what Lyle might do on a broader canvas.

Curtain time at Summer Shorts is scheduled for a fashionably late 8:15 and our performance was over around 9:45, allowing enough time to get home and catch a little of the Olympics on TV, a bonus that both Bill and I welcomed. After all, even the most ardent theater lover can appreciate aquaman Michael Phelps’s quest for eight gold medals, the debate over whether the pixyish Chinese female gymnasts are underage and all the other dramas that are grabbing the spotlight in Beijing.

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