Short-Form Filing

Marathon display of the ancient art and variegated pleasures of the one-act

Program B, overall, fares better. At least, it takes more formal risks, albeit with uneven success, and it offers more genuine liveliness. Its opener, Julia Cho's 100 Most Beautiful Names of Todd, is a silly, scrappy piece, repeating motifs from her full-length BFE, seen at Playwrights Horizons last year. But it's also a fun listen, with few false steps in its writing. A youngish widow fixates on the loss of her husband, while her preteen daughter, equally at a loss, finds solace in quasi-romance with an African exchange student—in whose native language, to give you some sense of Cho's fondness for comically oddball facts, the movie Carrie is known as Queen of Blood Dancing. Though adding up to little, its bright writing, abetted in Jamie Richards's production by endearing performances from Allison Bartlett, William Jackson Harper, and Diana Ruppe, shows off another quality good one-acts have: hope for the playwright's future.

Next comes Mamet's Bone China, proffering a lovely, clean chill that cuts through the lingering sweetness of Cho's work like a perfectly measured dash of vinegar. An encounter between two riven souls with other people's problems on their minds, it lures you into its quick surprise reversal with unerring precision. EST artistic director Curt Dempster's staging wisely gives his two top-of-the-line performers, Marcia Jean Kurtz and Victor Slezak, the leeway to spring Mamet's trap with their own immaculate timing.

Before the break comes Program B's comparative dud, Will Eno's Intermission, in which two couples chat between acts of a play. Eno knows how to throw in a good laugh line here and there, but what he's up to overall is both predictable and windily pretentious. If audiences really spouted such idiocy at intermissions, house managers would have more to worry about than cell phones going off. Michael Sexton's production sugars this dry puff pastry with four lovable actors: Brian Murray, Jane Houdyshell, JJ Kandel, and Autumn Dornfeld, with Murray's crotchets and Houdyshell's acerbity pretty much saving the day.

A perfectly measured dash of vinegar: Slezak and Kurtz in Mamet's Bone China
photo: Carol Rosegg
A perfectly measured dash of vinegar: Slezak and Kurtz in Mamet's Bone China

Details

Marathon 2006 Programs A and B
Ensemble Studio Theatre
549 West 52nd Street
212-352-3101

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Lovability comes into play again with James Ryan's On the Sporadic, which occupies all of Program B's second half. A noisy comedy as inchoate and pointless as its haughty title, Ryan's would-be comedy follows the by now all too familiar pattern of a square's encounter with an increasingly menacing weirdo. Ryan tries to alter the pattern by throwing in a third character who neutralizes the menace with philosophic sweetness, but since almost nothing in his script is backed by any believable motive, no twist can give much surprise. What does surprise is the acting, under Charles Richter's direction. Both Ean Sheehy as the jittery city guy and Jordan Gelber as his outrageous nemesis (a Native American with a torrential cascade of problems) play gleefully and precisely up to the bearable edge of their characters; respective crazinesses. Good feeling, rather than playwriting, is what's on view. But that too, you might say, is a principal excuse for the one-act as a form.

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