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    Summer Shorts / Fall Briefs

    Short and sweet

    "Fall Briefs" is an often-charming, occasionally thoughtful collection of short plays about such subjects as ... Oh my God, can we put our arms down yet?


    (Originally reviewed as "Summer Shorties" in summer 2009. Some material has changed.)

    Two men, wearing only loincloths, stand on stage with their arms extended in midair, as if nailed to crosses. One is Jesus; the other is Some Guy Next to Jesus. They talk for 10 or 15 minutes, never lowering their heavy, heavy arms. Of course, actors preparing for any role ask themselves, "What would my character do?" and in this case the answer is unusually clear. What would Jesus do? He would suffer for the rest of us. Of course he would. And so do the hardy Graciany Miranda and Michael Eisenstein, bless them.

    Directed by: Bill Toscano, David Ledoux, Leslie (Hoban) Blake, Stasi Schaeffer, Shela Xoregos.
    Includes individual plays: "Hamlet in Hiding" by Rich Rubin; "Counting on My Fingers" by Frank John Verderame; "In a Clearing Quiet" by Michael Tooher; "Together Alone" by Richard Warren; "Brecka and Scarlet" by Fran Handman; "Odysseus Swims For It" by Joshua H. Cohen; "AD 33" by James C. Ferguson; "Bluff" by Mike Folie; "Surprise" by Mark Harvey Levine.
    Cast: Doug Roland, Gabriel Furman, Artie Brennan, Ashley Hearon, Emily Robinson, Elizabeth Jilka, Jenny Moon, Nik Kourtis, Edward Sass III, Amanda Shy, Graciany Miranda, Michael Eisenstein, Joel Haberli, Isabella Palmieri, Stacey Bone, Coleen Sciacca.
    Times Square Arts Center
    300 W. 43rd Street
    Previews start: Sept. 25, 2009
    Oct. 2-11, 2009

    Of all the moments in the Turtle Shell Productions' "Summer Shorties" series, this was the one that gripped me the most, even if it put me in the actors' heads rather than the characters'. (Ironically, the actors probably would have been more comfortable if they were attached to actual crosses.) Miranda and Eisenstein make their way cheerfully through a quite sparkling dialogue from their perch atop Calvary. The idea of eavesdropping on Jesus's last conversation with a chatty crucifixion neighbor almost can't miss, and in James Ferguson's "AD 33" it doesn't.

    What do you talk about when your neighbor on the cross directly to your right is the Christ? Oh, mostly just stuff. Diseases you'd like healed. A little hero worship.

    "The wife's a HUGE fan," says The Guy. "If she knew I was being crucified next to You, the things she'd let me do to her ..."

    Ah, blasphemy, will you ever stop being funny?

    The audience favorites in the cast were undoubtedly Emily Robinson and Isabella Palmieri, a pair of fearless and precocious pre-teen girls playing various roles. The thing is, I didn't love most of the plays they actually appeared in, and while I would cheer them on, I was not so enthusiastic about the end products.

    Summer Shorts / Fall Briefs  
    To pick on just one, Fran Handman's "Brecka and Scarlet" was a crowd-pleasing comedy that, to me, was doomed from the moment it was conceived. Lime-greenish alien life forms try to understand earth through the only artifact they are able to get their mitts on — a copy of "Gone With the Wind." In computer-voice monotones interrupted constantly by alien talk that sounds like, you know, "bloop" and "jrrrg" and things like that, they surmise that Earth people are named Scarlett and wear bloop, jrrrg, giant hoop dresses. I might not be doing the concept justice with this description, but ... no, I am doing it justice. There's only one joke there, and not a very funny joke, spun out as far as it will go, and in fact farther. Then again, the people loved it.

    (The most inspired part of "Brecka and Scarlet" was actually after it was over, when the two youngsters came out, still in their alien personae, to sell concessions during intermission. Awesome.)

    My own two favorite pieces not involving the discomfort of the Lord's only begotten Son were the first and the last of the evening. Rich Rubin's "Hamlet in Hiding" was a perfect table setter, finding three Irish ne'er-do-wells hiding out in a remote hideout after a successful — well, a near-successful — heist, discussing feckin' books and feckin' family tragedies and feckin' Shakespeare and feckin' Google Maps and how to make a proper feckin' getaway and such. It's quick-witted and feckin' hilarious.

    The evening closes with Mark Harvey Levine's "Surprise," a lovely little piece of sleight-of-mouth that would be at home in a David Ives collection. Eisenstein is back as a man with a cruel gift — the ability to see the future, but only a paltry two minutes ahead. It's a talent suitable only for irritatingly finishing other people's sentences and pissing off your date. After a sparkling exchange of repartée and what I guess you would call prepartée, tempers flare, characters bicker, and we've enjoyed ourselves a nice light piece of comedy — with maybe something meaningful under the surface. The question is this: How interesting would we really find each other if we took away "surprise" from our relationships, and one of us knew the other completely? Maybe what we love about each other is not just the person we know but also the person we don't know, revealed; maybe our great joy is in letting ourselves be discovered.

    You could probably predict how this little gem ends, if you wanted to, but when it does, the play hasn't tried almost any of our patience and we feel good about it, like we've glimpsed something human in there.

    The "Summer Shorties" series included three different evenings of plays (I saw Group B), and is being reinvented for fall with largely the same material but different casts and directors. Just speaking for Group B, it was a well produced and well appreciated evening that made the most of what can be done within the limits of a small theater and the need to change sets rapidly. The set's minimal design was accentuated expertly by paper screens, lights and video that transformed the scenery with the flicks of a few buttons — and just simply gave the stage a little glow. A lot of the little things helped make this an evening of wit and (feckin') charm.

    SEPTEMBER 24, 2009

    Reader comments on Summer Shorts / Fall Briefs:

  • SHORT AND SWEET   from Fran Handman, Sep 30, 2009

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