One-Act Plays at Ensemble Studio Theatre
Series C Superb
By: Susan Hall - Jun 23, 2019
37th Marathon of One-Act Plays
Ensemble Studio Theatre and Radio Drama Network
New York, New York
June 9-June 29
The five One-Act plays presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre, Series C, are a crowning achievement in this 37th Annual event.
The first one-act, I believe in a republic in which money has a great deal to say, a surprise stage suggests an opulent Newport home. Three ladies dressed in 19th century glory sip tea at a table. Bess (Megan Tusing) withstands a humiliating and degrading assault on her person. Mrs. Vanderbilt (Patricia Randell) is particularly noxious, even suggesting that Bess must eat a tea sandwich which has dropped on the floor. The reason for this order is that Bess refused to be blamed for knocking the sandwiches over. She didn't, but to object to anything Mrs. Vanderbilt says, even untruths, is not within the province of her job.
It is Bess's wish to become one of these women which echoes the familiar lyrics, "I believe above the storm the smallest prayer Will still be heard
I believe that someone in the great somewhere Hears every word Every time…
She dons Mrs. Vanderbilt's plumage as Mrs. Oelrichs (Delphia Harrington) looks on in her dead cat hat. Her husband will not allow her to keep a live one for comfort. Bess blooms in the end. Yet the other ladies do not wilt. Money and the idea of money has triumphed in this handsome and provocative piece written by Julia Specht and directed by Jamie Richards.
Mandarin Duck is a delightful and moving exploration of immigration or migration by Lloyd Suh, directed by Peter Kim. Suh creates two very different immigrants from Korea, Grace (Cindy Im) and Youni (Soomi Kim). Grace is married and has children. Youni feels she is invisible in the United States. She hangs out in a Korean nail salon and has snitched a pair of bird watching binoculars. The ladies are looking for a Mandarin duck who has been sited in Central Park. Mandarin Ducks, of course, live in East Asia. They look like North American wood ducks, but the possible confusion of species is not noted. The characters focus on how it feels to be an outsider in a new land. How would a mandarin duck feel in this strange place. In the end, they spot a rose-breasted grosbeak, lovely but also common. This may be what the immigrants wish for themselves.
The Tourists is hilarious. Courtney Ulrich directs to give a steady, forward thrusting beat to Stephen Brown's setting. This is the last night in Paris for Debra (Talaura Harms) and Peggy (Helen Coxe), two middle-aged ladies who often travel together. Roly poly Deb is set on having a romance with a native male. She celebrates flesh. Peggy's heart is set on a visit to Sacre Coeur. Deb sets out to seduce Dmitri (Marshall Taylor Thurman) who has been delivering food and hope. What follows is surprising, funny and also touching. Two BFFs have never had such a terrific trip to Paris.
Jesus the woman has arrived in New York. Kate Attwell imagines the reaction in her. The setting feels like a new world take on Jose Saramago's Blindness. Bibilical injunctions, reports of water turned to wine, and a populations refusal to see, are at the heart of this play. All the ensemble players are very good.
In Fall. Elizabeth Van Dyke is Ma, decrepit, confined to a wheelchair and speechess. Her daughter Tey (Suzete Azariah Gunn) provides care, or rather a caretaker, Rose (Lori Parquet). Rose likes Ma. Tey does not. Yet the two women will fight over Ma, who has lost it all. That someone could care for Ma is a revelation for Tey, and leads to a conclusion, in which Van Dyke draws tears from the audience.
The set, ever moving, is created by Frank J. Oliva and effective and appropriate for each setting. The evening provided uniform theatrical pleasure.