First Nighter: Three for the Good Show at Summer Shorts Series B

Whereas in the Summer Shorts series at 59E59 it's not unusual for one of the plays to be strong and the others to be, uh, less strong, all three one-acts in this year's--this 10th year's--Series B line-up have something to recommend them.

It may be that for its subject matter and for the sensitivity of its handling, the first-on-the-bill Black Flag, by Idris Goodwin, is the most intriguing. When they meet on the first day of freshman year, college roommates Sydney (Francesca Carpanini) and Deja (Suzette Azariah Gunn) take to each other. That's until Sydney, a white student from the South, unpacks her Confederate flag and hangs it above her bed. Black student Deja is offended and yet holds her tongue, because Sydney has said she has it there to remember, at her mother's request, her heritage. Deja also keeps quiet because the flag is on Sydney's side of the room.

Sydney only learns how severely Deja has been offended when she discovers a poem in which Deja expresses herself fully in writing. Goodwin's achievement here is that she doesn't reduce the issue to a black-and-white matter (Deja pointedly uses the familiar phrase) but regards it in varying shades of subtle gray. She does it partially by introducing Deja's Asian boyfriend Harry (Ruy Iskandar) for further racial conflicts. When Goodwin reaches her conclusion--the work directed well by Logan Vaughn and acted well, too--she might not have completely plumbed the depth and breadth of the situation, but she's certainly done enough to earn an A-.

Richard Alfredo's pointedly noir-ish The Black Clothes of Night, directed by Alexander Dinelaris with a firm grasp on the film genre, introduces Raymond Chandler-esque Burke (Dana Watkins) slinking around high and low locales while investigating a missing-sister caper. Then it switches to professor Rob (also Watkins) teaching classes on the literary and filmic subject. From then on playwright Alfredo alternates between the two men--often distinguishing between them by having Watkins put on or take off a fedora.

What Alfredo seems to have on his mind is the difficulty Rob has figuring out who he is to the people in his life, including a girlfriend (Sinem Meltem Dogan). He keeps being drawn to Burke and the sinister women in Burke's life (Dogan). The problem here is that Alfredo hasn't planned his play comfortably. He allows more confusion to rule than in Chandler's The Big Sleep, which even the movie adapters couldn't figure out. (The musical City of Angels fares better with a similar device.) The important saving grace here?: the hilarious satirical lines Alfredo puts in Burke's mouth and the comically hard-bitten manner with which Watkins, fedora on, spouts them.

Queen, the third and middle one-act, is most notable for the performances that Casandera M.J. Lollar and Saverio Tuzzolo give under Victor Slezak's sympathetic direction. In Alex Dinelaris's relatively thin adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story "The Woman Who Came at Six O'Clock," Lollar as Queen comes to Joe's café as she does every day at the same hour. Or has she arrived at the same time this particular early evening to encounter Joe? Unrequitedly in love, he sets out to prepare a meal for her that she doesn't want for reasons only vaguely hinted at? Lollar is mercurial at conveying Queen's shifting moods, and Tuzzolo neatly embodies Joe's wounded hopes, and they are enough to lend the play more substance than it has in its present form. Chris McFarland is a cop who enters late to suggest what questionable undertaking Queen might have been up to before the appointed six o'clock hour.