By Nick Payne, Danielle Trzcinski, and Courtney Baron
Directed by Rory McGregor, Sarah Cronk, and Maria Mileaf
Produced by Throughline Artists
Off Broadway, Short Plays
Runs through 8.25.19
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 8.3.19
Libe Barer and Robbie Tann in Here I Lie. Photo by Carol Rosegg
BOTTOM LINE: For Summer Shorts, this trio is darker than usual, tackling suicide and illness, but each one is thoroughly engrossing, offering an enjoyable change up from the typical summer fare.
Typical Summer Shorts plays (if not summer festivals in general) tend towards more light-hearted material, stories that might make you laugh but won't stick with you much after the final bow. This is not the case with the offerings in this year's Series A. Each play tackles death, and more specifically suicide, in its own way. If some playwrights find comedy in this dark theme, none have the sunny, beachy tone one might expect from summer theater.
The first is Interior by Nick Payne, the most well-known of this trio's playwrights, with Broadway and Netflix credits under his belt. Interior is an adaptation from Belgian Symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck's 1895 full-length play of the same title. A character simply known as Old Man (Bill Buell) struggles to break the news of the death of a young woman, possibly a suicide, to a family. As he watches them through a window, noting how happy and at peace they seem, he delays again and again, knowing that once he shares what he knows, their happiness will be destroyed and long lasting sorrow will fall upon them. The script itself is deceitfully simple. And this minimalist story is captivating partly because of the appropriately atmospheric lighting by Greg MacPherson and cinematically dramatic sound effects from Nick T. Moore. Both of these designers help to emphasize the dramatic tension of the Old Man's inner struggle.
Next is Danielle Trzcinski's Bridge Play, which finds humor in one man's contemplation of suicide as he stands at the guardrail of the George Washington Bridge. As John (James P. Rees) announces his reasons for taking his own life, he yells at the cars honking behind him, launching into a heated discussion with Alex (Christopher Dylan White), a self absorbed young man on his way to his high school graduation. When Alex realizes what John is about to do, he breaks out his cellphone and begins filming, commenting on how many views he will get when he uploads it online. If perhaps an absurdly selfish asshole, Alex might also be the very thing to snap John out of his suicidal mindset. The play glosses over the emotional state that would drive one to attempt suicide and finds instead plenty of humor between the two characters and their predicament. Both Rees and White show a knack for comedy and make the most of the play's one liners. The hastily rendered happy ending, however, seems out of place with the play's initially snarky tone.
The standout by far is Courtney Baron's attention-grabbing Here I Lie, in which two troubled characters each give a monologue explaining their reasoning for feigning terminal illnesses. While directly addressing the audience, the two smile and nod at each other as if listening to each other's conversations at a party.
When faced with being fired for bringing her editor a poorly written manuscript about cancer, Maris (Libe Barer) impulsively decides to falsely claim that the book resonated with her because of her own terminal cancer diagnosis. Once the lie is out she finds herself unable to take it back, shaving her head and starving herself to make it as convincing as possible. Gaunt and wearing wigs, she relishes in how thin she has become and how suddenly she's the center of attention. Playing this role, she says, gives her grace and purpose. She notes that her illness gives something to those around her, filling them with some kind of meaning in their lives. She eventually lies to her boyfriend, family, and friends, before realizing that she has no way out: she must die or else admit her inadvertent con.
John (Robbie Tann) works as a nurse in the NICU. One sickly and prematurely born baby makes such an impression on him that John starts to imagine him as his own son, even naming him after himself. When the baby's young drug addict mother signs a DNR order causing the baby to be left to die, John takes on the baby's suffering as his own. Lacking love in his own life, John seems to believe that through battling a sickness, he can one day gain the affection bestowed upon the critically ill.
By exploring the motives of two woefully misguided but seemingly well-intentioned people, Baron creates immensely compelling writing. This unusual story is thoroughly riveting from start to finish. My one caveat—I wish there had been a few more hints as to how one might interpret the ending. Although it certainly did give my plus one and I a lot to discuss on the way home.
(Summer Shorts Series A plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through August 25, 2019. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes without an intermission. Performances (of either Series A or Series B) are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:15; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:15 and 7:15. Check website for precise times for each series. Tickets are $38.50 and are available at 59E59.org or call 646-892-7999.)
Summer Shorts Series A is by Nick Payne (Interior), Danielle Trzcinski (The Bridge Play), and Courtney Baron (Here I Lie). Directed by Rory McGregor (Interior), Sarah Cronk (The Bridge Play), and Maria Mileaf (Here I Lie). Set Design by Rebecca Lord-Surratt. Lighting Design by Greg MacPherson. Sound Design by Nick T. Moore. Stage Manager is Dee Dee Katchen.
The cast is Bill Buell, Jordan Bellow, Joanna Whicker, and Mariah Lee (Interior); James P. Rees and Christopher Dylan White (The Bridge Play); and Libe Barer and Robbie Tann (Here I Lie).