Category: Archive

This one act play ranks high

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

This year, in “Marathon 2005,” Guare and Foote are both on hand, the former in “Series A,” the first of the three bills making up the overall effort, which runs through the 26th of the month, and the latter in “Series C.”
John Guare’s “Madascar,” in fact, is the first item in “Series A,” leading off this year’s ambitious “Marathon,’ with four plays on the first menu, three on “Series A” and four closing out the festival as part of Series C.
Guare’s hour-length effort suffers from one of those odd coincidences which sometimes plague works of fiction, stageplays included. Its title is identical to Dreamworks animation SKG’s feature-length cartoon, which had its New York opening just two days after the first performance of Guare’s play at E.S.T.
In the Dreamworks feature, the title refers to the island which lies in the Western portion of the Indian Ocean, off the SE coast of Africa, formerly a French possession which, freed in 1958, became the Malagasy Republic. In the film, it is the destination for a pack of animals fleeing the Central Park Zoo.
In Guare’s play, Madagascar is the name of a middle western family which owns virtually all of the small town in which they live, with the result that nearly every local establishment bears the family name, while all of the community’s professional people, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and so forth, are related by blood, of, conceivably, by marriage.
By a further coincidence, Guare’s “Madagascar” also concerns itself with another form of confinement, namely marriage.
At the heart of the play is a diabolical Madagascar marriage. A frantic housewife, as the play opens, is supervising a garage sale in which, with a few exceptions, everything in her life is on sale at bargain prices.
One of the not-for-sale items is a plastic cooler of the sort people take to picnics, but which Carrie, the harried housewife, appears to use as the center of her householding efforts.
Another forbidden item is a large, doorless refrigerator, in which, huddling like a hunted animal, the takes periodic refuge.
By the end of Guare’s odd, misfiring comedy-drama, the fridge has become Carrie’s coffin, or, perhaps, as directed by Will Pomerantz, it is merely being asked to substitute for one.
Carrie, as portrayed by the pert Amy Love, is an annoyance from first word till last. It seems totally logical that, when he finally appears and interrupts her monologue, Greg Madasgascar, played acceptably by Remy Auberjonois, would be intrigued by the idea of dispensing with his tedious little wife.
Playwright Guare forged his successful play, “Six Degrees of Separation,” from material that had appeared in the New York newspapers. In an unfocussed, blurred sort of way, he appears to have done something similar this time.
“Madascar” replays the sad tale of the mountain climber who, when a rockslide pinned his arm against the wall of a cliff, performed an amputation with nothing but a pocket penknife. The playwright mines this material in a manner which flirts with the flagrantly opportunistic, and even beyond.
If that weren’t enough, “Madagascar” also contains references to the case of Laci Peterson, who was, along with her unborn son, murdered by her straying husband, Scott.
Guare’s awkward play leaves its audience with at least a few questions as to why the playwright chose to write this play, and why the E.S.T. artistic director, Curt Dempster, elected to include it in ‘Series A,’ which runs through this Saturday.
“Mr. Morton Waits For His Bus,” by Warren Leight, who won a 1999 Tony Award for his moving family memory play, “Side Man,” may be slight, even forgettable, but it provides “Series A” with its only genuine infusion of wit, and, as briskly directed by Andrew McCarthy, its one truly enjoyable experience.
An inexperienced young New York cop, Officer Sheehy, finds himself in the cluttered apartment of an elderly corpse, waiting for the police to provide an ambulance and to relieve him of the uneasy task.
After a period in which he snoops around the apartment a bit to temper his nervousness and to head of his growing boredom, the cop, nicely played by Ian Sheehy, is confronted by a talking corpse. At first, Mr. Morton seems to have recovered from what might possibly be an alcohol-fueled coma.
In time, it becomes entirely clear that the gentleman, deftly portrayed by onetime Broadway leading man Donald Symington, is truly deceased.
Leight’s craftsmanship is a little on the untidy side, giving the audience no clear reason for the police officer’s having found the body, although one assumes that the neighbors called to inform the authorities that Mr. Morton hadn’t been seen for a while.
If Leight’s skills aren’t entirely engaged, his ample sense of humor definitely is, and “Mr. Morton Waits For His Bus” provides a generous supply of fun.
The two remaining items of “Series A” are well-intentioned, but relatively unrewarding.
In Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ “The Airport Play,” two individuals, a nervous American woman and a tense South Asian gentleman, share a row of seats in a waiting room, and slowly, very slowly, reveal themselves to each other.
At issue is a popular book written by an Indian guru who is a personal enemy of the male traveler, Hari, nicely played by Edward Hajj.
His waiting room companion, Anne, deftly done by Ann Talman, eventually abandons the volume, only to have it redeemed by a young arrival, a wordless role assigned to Brady Ovson.
The play, sad to say, amounts to very little.
Leslie Lyles’ “The Great Pretender,” directed by Billy Hopkins, an E.S.T. regular familiar as a casting director, is ambitious, but suffers from feeling somewhat unfinished.
Once again, the scene is an airport. A formerly married couple, long divorced, Anna (Amy Irving) and Bobby (Bruce Mac Vittie), having come together for a journey to their son’s funeral, are stuck in the security waiting line.
As they parry and thrust, mainly displaying a modicum of mutual affection, the ghost of their lost son, Jackie, appears and delivers a series of monologues revealing his situation.
Jackie is played with grace and style by an unusually promising young actor, Haskell King, who mines the material for both humor and warmth. Overall, “Series A” is a mildly disappointing example of what E.S.T. can do. “Series B” and “Series C,” it is to be hoped will be better.

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