Neil LaBute Helps Put Summer Shorts 2017 B Series in Winners Column

The risk of asking friends to be totally honest is the prickly subject of Wedding Bash, the middle Summer Shorts 2017 B series one-act at 59E59 Theatres. Not that Dana (Rachel Napoleon) and Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) even ask so-called visiting friends Edi (Georgia Ximenes Lifsher) and Alan (Andy Powers) to be honest. In the Lindsay Kraft and Andrew Leeds comedy, Dana and Lonny have invited Edi and Alan over for a dinner where the guests are expected to share the hosts’ high opinion of their recent nuptials. At first Edi and Alan concur that the bash, held in Sedona (where friends had to spend large amounts of money on travel) was just about the most memorable they’d ever attended. But when Dana and Lonny leave the room to finish fixing dinner, Alan suggests that Edi and he tell the truth about their very different reaction to the affair. In other words, Edi and he are going to bash the bash (hence, of course, the punning Kraft-Leeds title). As a result and to the horror of Dana and Lonny, their guests hold no bars. A wedding-gift-table full of laughs follows. It may be that Wedding Bash isn’t much more than a Dick Clare-Jenna McMahon comedy sketch that might have been aired on the still lamented Carol Burnett Show with Burnett and Harvey Korman doing the bashing and Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway suffering the slings and arrows of bad manners But what’s wrong with a skit of that high Burnett caliber?? Nothing whatsoever, as directed by Summer Shorts founder J. J. Kandel, and played by this Burnett-worthy cast.

Neil LaBute makes it a duty to contribute a Summer Shorts one-act every year—and subsequently even film it (as he and others explain in a short projected prologue). This year his entry is Break Point, another title sporting a pun and, as it happens, concerning sports. It’s tennis, and LaBute imagines a meeting in the not too distant future between two highly ranked players contemplating their entry into the round of 16. They’re Oliver (John Garrett Greer), poised to notch his twentieth grand slam major event win, and Stan (Keilyn Durrel Jones), whose record isn’t quite that vaunted. Worried that he might not have the wherewithal to cop the Flushing Meadows cup fair and square, Oliver has asked to meet lifelong chum Stan to discuss Stan’s throwing the match. Whether Stan, initially outraged by the request, eventually goes along for a sub rosa $10 million payoff is the suspense here. Also, hinted at is corruption in the WTA, a topic not often raised, as opposed to other sports. What does LaBute know about those matters that the rest of us don’t? Or is he just interested in watching a desperate man attempt to get his way, sports or no sports? Greer and Jones play this off-court match extremely well under LaBute’s direction, but playwright LaBute keeps the athletes’ pungent serving-and-volleying longer than it needs to be.

The B series curtain-raiser is Chris Cragin-Day’s A Woman in which Kim (Jennifer Ikeda) approaches childhood pal, now Presbyterian pastor Cliff (Mark Boyett), about nominating a woman as an elder. Much as Cliff cherishes their past, he’s adamant that church laws preclude such a move. Were he to honor her request, he could even lose his just-acquired position. Kim is every bit as committed to her campaign, if not necessarily viewing herself as the female elder nominated. Who will prevail is in question, and although much is at stake in a challenge-religion-tradition way, not enough is at stake during the tense confrontation. On the other hand, the always reliable Ikeda and Boyett (where’s he been all this time?) wrangle well enough to keep interest up. Much of their appeal can also be credited to director Kel Haney.

Taken all in all, this Summer Shorts 2017 slate is a commendable success.

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