by Carole Di Tosti
A woman is afraid of the encroaching darkness of unfulfilled dreams and death, two political rivals reverse power positions, a father and daughter confront each other’s weaknesses! Each of these scenarios tied together by the theme of power is headily encountered during an intriguing evening of one-acts. The concept of playwrights collaborating to direct each other’s work is in its third season presented by La Mama.
After the Dark, written by Marco Calvani, translated by Allison Eikerenkoetter is directed by Marta Buchaca. Summit by Marta Buchaca translated by H.J. Gardner is directed by Neil LaBute. I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From by Neil LaBute is directed by Marco Calvani. These one-acts in their U.S. premiere are innovatively and minimally staged within a large, white power circle that represents the conflict between the characters in each play. As the characters strive to become preeminent, they face a turning point which either leads to hope or in which they ultimately entrap themselves in nullifying patterns of behavior that, unless arrested, will cause their own personal destruction in the future.
In After the Dark entrepreneur Susie (a fine Margaret Colin) and her assistant Jessie (Gabby Beans is subtle in her misapplied energy) converse in a shabby hotel room after their preparation for Susie’s trade show which opens the following morning. During their interactions we discover that Susie ruefully views a younger version of herself in Jessie. She confides that she is afraid of the darkness because of a traumatic incident in her childhood, an event which has overshadowed her identity and career path. As Susie drinks, we see a shift in power dynamic between the two characters which is exacerbated after Susie oversteps the boss-worker boundaries with a sexual advance. At this turning point Jessie rises to the ascendancy. She threatens to leverage the event as a sexual harassment complaint, unless Susie gives her a quid pro quo. Whether or not this exchange morphs into a positive result is the satisfactory working of Calvani who manages to reveal much of the relationships and personalities of the characters with precision and clarity helped by the sensitive direction of Marta Buchaca and fine acting.
In Summit the Ex-Mayor (Victor Slezak is surreptitious and subdued) is packing up as the Mayor (Dalia Davi in a forceful portrayal) comes into the office ready to assume leadership. When the Mayor sees the Ex-Mayor and questions his presence, the exchange that follows is bristling with the edginess of rivalry. The Ex-Mayor acknowledges her supremacy. With their brusque back-and-forth, Buchaca reveals salient details about the campaign and identifies each of their personalities assisted by LaBute’s apt shepherding of the fine actors. The Mayor grandstands as she sports her idealism and self-righteous “mandate for change” which is the obvious weapon she used to bludgeon the Ex-Mayor, who was cast as the jaded, corrupted politician.
Buchaca then inverts the power dynamics. We discover why the Ex-Mayor has been dilatory in vacating the office and why the reporters are thronging “downstairs.” Sink or swim, the new Mayor will have to “face the music” as the Ex-Mayor, who may have tipped off the press, sneaks out of the office with a gift to the city, in a symbolic act that indicates he may run for re-election. Politics is war: one’s online history may determine who wins.
I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From, the last one-act, is the most astounding and manifests a fitting “boom” to the evening. Calvani’s superb direction of the wonderful Gia Crovatin (Janie, the estranged daughter), and the equally amazing and versatile Richard Kind (Simon, the father) is devastating and nearly surreal. When Janie presents lawyer Simon with a thick contract for him to sign so that he can see his grandson and they can establish a healthier relationship, her forceful manner appears provocative, even outrageous. Gradually, LaBute reveals justifications for her behavior despite the mewling protestations of Simon. The conflict escalates as Simon reads what he must sign; the heated retorts mount. There is an explosion. The concluding revelation at once clarifies and shocks, thanks to the masterful actors, exceptional direction and LaBute’s writing which distills disturbing genius.
Photos: Theo Cote
You may see this intriguing evening of one-acts at La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre (66 East Fourth St. between the Bowery and Second Ave.) until 5 February. You may purchase tickets by phone (212-352-3101) or at this website: http://lamama.org/ada_2017/