Like the firmness of the Earth, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 31-year-old annual one-act Marathon endures, season after season. 2009’s Series A delivers another engaging grab bag of actor-driven works by new and established playwrights.
Kia Corthron’s Trickle is an Odets-like series of schematic but well-acted vignettes demonstrating the consequences of corporate irresponsibility at every level of the economy, from a callous exec (Geneva Carr) to a struggling au pair (Nikki E. Walker). While one wishes Wall Streeters might watch a play like this and be touched, its preachy note of hysteria may fail to convince the unconverted.
For the Love of God, St. Teresa pits a rebellious teenager (Lucy DeVito—Danny’s daughter) against a strict but caring nun (Christine Farrell, who’s also the playwright). Their earthy dust-up has an unexpected result when the Sister experiences even more of an awakening than the wayward kid.
Garrett M. Brown’s Americana presents an impressionistic snapshot of the author’s lone happy memory from his otherwise checkered relationship with his deceased father (Michael Cullen). The piece could use some pruning and honing, but Linsay Firman’s direction and an excellent cast mostly keep it in line.
The highlight of Program A is Tommy Smith’s PTSD, an account of a young man’s return from the Iraq War. The titular post-traumatic stress disorder turns out to have less to do with the soldier’s nonexistent battle experiences than the shattered relationships he left back home. William Carden stages the piece with appropriate hyper-realism; at one point, an actor cooks an actual breakfast onstage. All four cast members seem to plumb the depths of their expertly shaded characters—often wordlessly. The coda to this rich playlet contains only about six lines, yet is one of the most eloquent pieces of theater I’ve seen in a long time.
The evening ends on a flashy note, with Maggie Bofill’s Face Cream. This funny domestic comedy features Bruce MacVittie and Paula Pizzi as a middle-aged couple getting ready for their daughter’s wedding. Their Neil Simon–style, one-liner-strewn argument culminates in a spicy tango (choreographed by Sid Grant), showing what’s really behind the fireworks. In the wake of the joblessness, teenage sex, alcoholism, and madness in the preceding plays, it’s nice to go out on some happy feet.