Short Play Fury



Written and directed by various artists

Presented by The Collective NY at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space, NYC

November 29-December 16, 2018

Capture, a collection of one twenty-minute and three ten-minute new plays that share concerns with gender and the ambiguities of morality, makes up one third of the sixth annual C:10 festival, running in rotation with two further programs of ten-minute plays: Bound, with works focusing on the NFL, madness, privilege, and gun control; and Escape, with works focusing on addiction, home, anxieties about government, and school shootings. C:10 is presented by not-for-profit theater company The Collective NY, a group of more than 60 artists that was created in 2007 and counts Amy Schumer among its founding members. As part of its mission to keep theater widely accessible, The Collective's No Empty Seats initiative makes seats available on a free or pay-what-you-can basis, and donations are accepted both after shows and through the group's website.

The best short plays, like the best short stories, draw power from the distillation inherent to the form, maximizing their impact, and the quartet of selections composing Capture are certainly no exception. Choked, written by Antony Raymond in collaboration with Ava Paloma and directed by Bettina Bilger, provides a hilarious opening to the program. Or perhaps we should say darkly hilarious, since it begins with underdressed, tequila-soaked Dennis (Rock Kohli) having called his friend Clark (Swann Gruen) to come to his place because he is fairly sure that he has unintentionally killed Martina (Ava Paloma) during a sexual encounter following a discussion among bar regulars of kinks and fetishes. Dennis, of course, has not told Clark precisely why he needs his help, and the complications that ensue strain their friendship, expose ulterior motives, and touch on issues such as the messiness of consent. Throughout, Dennis primarily treats Martina as a problem to be gotten rid of, and Clark, the more apparently sympathetic of the pair, himself has a moment in which he seems to care much more about a perceived betrayal by Martina than about the fact that she is likely dead. Crisp direction and excellent performances propel Choked to a climax involving a second, ironic instance of its titular act.   

Mrs. K, written and directed by Brian Leider, contrasts the comic energy of Choked, but it is no less intense in its own, quieter way. Leider's play engages some of the same issues as Choked as well, as it imagines the private side of a ripped-from-the-headlines #metoo story in which rising politician Eddie (Dante Alexander) has been accused of a drunken rape 20 years in his past. He tells his wife, Sarah (Claire Ganshert), that he will need her televised support in order for his claims of innocence to be given credence, but, for various reasons that we discover, she is unsure that she can grant his request. Eddie steadfastly maintains his innocence and argues as well that the goals that they are on the cusp of achieving are not merely personal but for the good of wider communities (although Eddie's race doesn't seem to be part of the narrative itself, that he is played by a person of color lends an extra dimension and weight to these arguments). Even though he can't bring himself to say the word rapist, Sarah is not so sure that he is innocent just because he is telling what he remembers to be the truth; and, at the same time, she is sure that his accuser is not lying about what she remembers to be the truth. Mrs. K offers a sensitive look at how and how far we trust and can know others, even loved ones; at the misperceptions around why survivors keep silent about sexual assault; and the unfortunate difficulties of trying to establish objective truth through human memory. Alexander and Ganshert both bring compelling nuance to this brief study of a marriage in conflict, and Ganshert communicates as much with her body language as with her lines.

Rear Ending, written by Erin Mallon and directed by Sayra Player, steers the proceedings back towards the comic, perhaps even the whimsical. Mercedes-driving professional woman Dayanara (Katherine Wallach) is rear-ended by the much more Bohemian Imogen (JB Roté) in her much less impressive vehicle. Their exchange of insurance information turns out to be one-sided, and Imogen gets very personal very quickly, but the conversation does lead these two outwardly very different women to discover some bonds of similarity. While it briefly appears as though Mallon's entry will take a turn for the creepy, its direction is ultimately one of rather sweet mutual understanding; even a climactic near miss of connection leaves the door of possibility open.  

Little Lights, written by Lacy Marie Meyer and directed by Bianca Puorto, has humorous moments, mostly courtesy of performatively aggressive character Beezer (Karen Irwin), but it is. on balance, the heaviest play of the four, and furnishes a sobering though hopeful ending to Capture. Little Lights takes place in an overly air-conditioned abortion clinic in Muncie, Indiana (perhaps in a nod to the current, anti-women's-health Vice President Pence), although, in an echo of Eddie's inability to say "rapist" in Mrs. K, neither the word "abortion" nor any synonyms are ever spoken. In addition to Beezer, Luna (Nathaly DeLaCruz), Sarah (Kelly Touhy), and Shantal (Elizabeth Baker) occupy the waiting room overseen by no-nonsense Nurse Gertrude (Geany Masai). These characters, significantly and representatively, all have different reasons for and reactions to being there; much of the focus, though, falls on the intensifying conflict between Beezer and the assertively Christian Rita (Jeannine Kaspar), whom Beezer has known since at least her time in Catholic high school. Rita evinces no compunction about attempting to convince the other women that they can leave before their procedures even as she awaits her own. However, when the volley of insults traded with Beezer boils over into something more, it forces Rita forced to reconsider on the spot what compassion really means. Beezer herself, in conversation with Sarah, learns a different version of the same empathy with the perspectives and experiences of others. Supported by strong performances from the rest of the cast, Irwin and Kaspar bring real emotional resonance to Beezer and Rita and the posturing, anger, shock, and vulnerability of their shifting relations to one another.

The four plays of C:10's Capture possess distinct voices and leave unique impressions even while some of their concerns reverberate with one another. Capture's smart, entertaining collection of short works is likely leave audience members wanting more; luckily for them, Bound and Escape can help to meet their needs. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler

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