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Marathon '97--Series "C"

Series "C" marks the finale in the twentieth annual Festival of One-Act plays. As with any assemblage like this, these events tend to be a mixed bag. Still there's always at least one standout, and often several of the offerings will stick to the mental ribs.

I didn't get to the first two in this year's series but from everything I've heard there were some very fine examples of this important format embraced by young and experienced playwrights alike. Three of the four plays in Series "C", which I did attend were by well-known practitioners in the full-length as well as one-act genre--Frank D. Gilroy, John Ford Noonan, and Craig Lucas. They ranged over a spectrum of moods. Gilroy's light-hearted autobiographical gem and John Ford Noonan's heart-wrenching two-hander served as bookends for a poetic tie-in to a current event and a zany take on a dysfunctional family's pre-Ophra look into the future. They were also the most successfully realized.

Getting In takes a street-smart but not school-smart young man from the Bronx, (Thomas McHugh), from army duty at the end of World War II to a very different struggle--to get into Dartmouth, the Ivy League college that has fired his ambition and imagination. With the aid of six other actors, (playing multiple roles), Bill Duffy chronicles his long and seemingly hopeless quest. Given the tone of the dialogue, and the encounters between Bill and the various people who stand between him and his dream, the outcome is fairly inevitable. Still, under Chris Smith's crisp-paced direction and thanks to Duffy's endearing performance Bill's quest is lots of fun, especially the epistolary sections. Getting In is a satisfying and fully rounded comic take on post World War II optimism. It's the staged equivalent of the best of the "B" movies and the fiction from the golden age of the magazine short story.

The Noonan play, When It Comes too Early, is exquisitely acted by Katherine Chalfant and Harris Yulin. These two pros ease director Daniel Selznick's job in giving depth to what is essentially a slice of heartbreak. Yulin is especially moving as a middle-aged man with Altzheimer's slipping in and out of his former self.

Of the two middle plays, Sparrows is without a doubt the timeliest, coming as it does in the wake of the Timothy McVeigh trial. Vicki Mooney's solo piece turns the landing of a terrified bird flying into the screen of an Oklahoma woman's kitchen window into an omen of the bombing near enough for several people she knew to be almost killed. Soccoro Santiago gives a passionate reading to the role of Merriweather Bear Den who is going to donate some of the quilts she made to give comfort to the victims. Director Curt Dempster and his two assistants do their best with what is essentially more like a poetry reading than a play.

Craig Lucas' 1968 style dysfunctional family's long day's journey into the future, What I Meant Was, starts off promisingly enough. Three members of a family of four--mom, dad and grandma--are frozen around the dinner table like Duane Hansen sculptures. They are awakened by their long-haired son for a humorously nightmarish look into past and future dysfunctions. Dad is a former FBI agent who forgives his wife for saying "I love you" so many times knowing how uncomfortable it made him, which mom counters with "I forgive you for never saying it in 50 years." Add to this Nana, an ex- Southern Jew who once referred to Martin Luther King as "an uppity Nigger" and you can see the playwright's fearless determination to dish up a stew filled with outrageous humor. Unfortunately, the stew, in spite of the many ingredients thrown into the pot, is too thin to be really robust.

The plays aside, this annual marathon now in its 20th year, is a very high energy event with people "in the business" outnumbering "regular" theater goers.

©right June 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

Marathon '97 Series "C"
Ensemble Studio
549 W. 52nd St.(212)247-3405

by Frank Gilroy With Thomas McHugh plus an ensemble of 6
Directed by Chris Smith

by Vicki Moony
Soccoro Santiago
Directed by Curt Dempster

by Craig Lucas
With Scotty Bloch, TomBozell, Elaine Bromka, Johnny Giacalone
Directed by Peggy Denithorne

by John Ford Noonan
With Kathleen Chalfant and Harris Yulin
Directed by Daniel Selznick

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