InGenius Short Play Festival
nytheatre.com review by Ben Trawick-Smith
January 12, 2011
Manhattan Theatre Source's InGenius Short Play Festival is further proof that this intimate space is one of New York's most important theatres. An evening of short plays under fifteen minutes, the festival displays the talents of both vibrant young artists and seasoned pros. It is a great showcase for the tremendous diversity that is New York's Indie Theater scene.
Many of the evening's best pieces keep their scope as tight as their running time. A case in point is Vincent Marano's My Baby. It's a charming, old-fashioned farce about an uptight father meeting his daughter's much older boyfriend. Although the plot is slight and absurdist, Marano elevates the piece above mere sketch. He crafts his characters with love and compassion. The play also benefits from the delightfully oddball pairing of James Armstrong, who portrays the father with Shakespearean gravitas, and Tod Engle, who plays the boyfriend as the schlubbiest of average joes.
Deuteranomoly, by Jessica Fleitman, also boasts a deceptively simple plotline: A 40-ish Jewish couple debates what to do about their son's color blindness. What is little more than an off-hand conversation becomes a rich comedy of ideas in Fleitman's hands. The play is both a warm glimpse at modern parenting and an examination of the deathly seriousness that lies at the heart of Jewish humor. And the actors who play the arguers, Sue Berch and Charlie Fersko, have the killer chemistry of an actual married couple.
Admittedly, some of the plays on offer are hampered by the limitations of writing such short material. Both Laura Schlachtmeyer's Impossible to Leave, a collage of scenes from life in New York City, and Alaina Hammond's Lips Upon Cheeks, a play about a cancer patient's relationship with her doctor, feature beautiful stretches of poetic dialogue. But both narratives felt a bit too large for the time allotted them.
Other pieces deal with well-covered subject matter, and suffer slightly from comparison to other works. Jen Thatcher's What Is This?, an existential comedy about two actors trapped within the world of a play, certainly has its share of laughs. But it doesn't add much new material to an old conceit.
Likewise, Destination, a heartfelt drama about a family devastated by Hurricane Katrina, covers the tragedy in an intensely emotional way that is familiar at this point. That being said, it boasts excellent performances by playwright Vivian Neuwirth and Rebecca Davis as a mother and daughter coping with life as refugees, as well as a powerful turn by Stephen Schnetzer as a haunted New Orleans police officer.
On a much lighter note, John McKinney's Misery, Apathy and Despair is an effective parody of the plays of Chekhov. McKinney dismantles the Russian's works to great comic effect, although the play's humor is admittedly not the subtlest.
That play also served as a vehicle for one of the most remarkable pieces of acting of the evening. At the performance I saw, it was announced that fellow playwright Greg Oliver Bodine would take over for an actor who had fallen ill. Bodine was so skilled in the role of a Chekhovian layabout that it took me several minutes before I realized he was was holding a script in his hands. Rather than treating this as a limitation, Bodine used the script to emphasize his character's obliviousness to the needs of the other characters.
Also impressive is Bodine's own work as playwright, I, Carpenter, the final and most powerful piece of the evening. The play details the struggle between a construction foreman and his fired employee. It's a modest but gripping piece, and treats the lives of working-class Americans with a truthfulness that is all too lacking in contemporary theatre. The play is also acted with startling honesty by Bodine, just as comfortable playing a blue collar New Yorker as a Russian aristocrat, and Michael Selkirk, brilliant as the wayward employee.
All the work on display has a passion that is a rare thing to find in New York theatre. In my opinion, MTS has produced some of the finest plays and playwrights of the past decade. After seeing this wonderfully eclectic selection of work, it is clear the venue is committed to continuing this tradition.