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AdA: Author Directing Author

Gia Crovatin and Richard Kind in Neal LaBute's "I Don't Know What I Can Save You From" which concludes this thematically connected Author Directing Author triptych of short 2-character plays
In my two decades as Curtainup's editor and critic in chief, I've covered a bunch of one-act play evenings. I've seen short plays by Beckett, Pinter and Albee effectively paired. Assemblages of plays by little and well known authors have built enough of a following to become annual events.

Playwright Neil LaBute's own off-Broadway breakthrough came with three short plays presented under the umbrella title of Bash: Latter-Day Plays. His devotion to the one-acter has continued with contributions to such annual events as Throughline Artists' Summer Shorts Festival.

LaBute's commitment to this theatrical version of the magazine and book world's short story, has seeded an annual one-act festival bearing his name which for the past two years has been presented at 59E59 Theaters (for a review of this year's edition go here ).

With AdA: Authors Directing Authors, he and co-founder Italian playwright Marco Calvani have added an intriguing concept of presenting a one-act, each playwright double tasking as the director of the other's work. This year, the third in the series, they've expanded the concept to include Spanish playwright Marta Buchaca.

Like LaBute's Bash the plays presented in this season's Authors Directing Authors are connected by having each focus on a power struggle between two characters. The thematic connection is also supported by Neil Patel's fit-all set with minimally different props for each. Adding to the sense of a unified evening is the symmetry of the casting: Each play features a well-known, mature stage actor and a still emerging young actor. The latter group being all women, while two of the three older actors are men, adds a feminist spin to the power theme.

The evening gets under way with Mr. Calvani's "After Dark," directed by Marta Buchaca. The setting is a room in a second-rate hotel. The occasion is a trade show where Susie (Margaret Colin) hopes to rebuild her lamp design company's diminishing profile and bottom line with an award. for lighting designers. From her somewhat compulsive chattering away to her young assistant Jessie (Gabby Beans) it's apparent that she's dealing not only with a sense of her diminishing powers as an entrepreneur but as a woman. While at first this seems to be pretty much Colin's show (she is indeed terrific) Jessie turns out to be more than just a sounding board for a tour-de-force monologue. Jessie's being young, attractive, ambitious and ready to take advantage of her boss's neediness turns this into a two-way confrontation. It helps that Gabby Beans is excellent and that Marta Buchaca insures the fluidity of the shift in this older/younger woman-boss/underling power play.

Ms. Buchaca own play, "Summit" supplies an amusing and especially timely pause between Calvani's melancholy opener and the typically dark and complex LaBute final piece. It's an unofficial interchange in an unnamed city's mayoral office between the Mayor who's occupied that office for the last ten years and the young Hispanic woman who defeated him with an impassioned liberal agenda.

Victor Slezak is hilarious as the veteran pol who along with packing up his belonging unpacks a lot of snide comments about how her savvy use of social media and her ambitious plans are likely to come a cropper. But good as Slezak in milking the laughs from the Mayor's passive-aggressive refusal to let his successor get on with the job, Dalia Davis proves to be a delightful and effective match for him — both in terms of her acting and the way her character deals with his schadenfreude when his predictions about the danger of social media postings are suddenly confirmed.

Despite Neal LaBute's pacey direction and the author's smart dialogue, the play's super timeliness exacerbates that it comes off as somewhat contrived.

For people unfamiliar with Neal LaBute's plays, "I Don't Know What I Can Do To Save You", this one directed by Calvani, will serve as a good introduction to his penchant for dealing with dark and complex situations. As someone who's followed his work for years, I knew that this reunion between an estranged father and daughter was likely to end with some kind of bombshell surprise.

Clearly, Simon (Richard Kind) and Janie (Gia Crovatin) have a relationship with plenty of bad fathering for him to admit to and her to deal with. Still their meeting seems a promising start for them to reconnect for the sake of her young child having a grandfather in his life. having her child to meet to still need to air out. Her grievances are not unusual — his philandering, being caught up in a nasty divorce, his putting business before her. But her plan to insure that none of this will happen if she allows him into her life again is not exactly ordinary. And the most explosive aspect of the father-daughter dynamic that she leaves out indeed makes for a true punch-to-the-gut LaButian finale.

Mr. Kind and Gia Covatin complete the satisfying casting of the two previous plays. Kind, gives his usual standout performance as the flawed but eager to do better father. Ms. Covatin is a star in the making as the troubled daughter.

These intriguingly connected plays are well worth a trip to La Mama. But don't wait too long. This year's issue runs just another week.

You may want to make another trip to La Mama's downstairs space for another evening of one-acts. These all by Robert Patrick from the 60's and early 80s that questioned the future and presciently foreshadowed the cyber web we live in today are presented under the umbrella title of Hi-Fi|Wi-Fi|Sci-Fi Predictions PastPresent and Future.

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Author Directing Author: 3 plays by 3 authors directing each other
After the Dark by Marco Calvani
Translated by Allison Eikerenkoetter
Directed by Marta Buchaca
Cast: Margaret Colin & Gabby Beans

Summit by Marta Buchaca
Translated by H.J. Gardner
Directed by Neil LaBute
Cast: Victor Slezak & Dalia Da

I Don't Know What I Can Save You From by Neil LaBute
Directed by Marco Calvani
Cast: Richard Kind & Gia Crovatin

Set: Neil Patel
Lighting: Alex Jainchill
Costumes: Jeff Mashie
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Stage Manager:Miriam Hyfler
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
La Mama Ellen Stewart Theater 66 E 4th Street 2nd Floor
From 1/19/17; opening 1/24/17; closing 2/05/17
Thursday to Saturday at 7PM; Sundays at 4PM
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on Jnuary 26, 2017

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