Thomas Burns Scully / Critic It’s easy to forget that beneath the cosy shelves and comfy sofas of the Drama Bookshop there is a black box theatre called The Arthur Seelen. I went there for the first time yesterday evening to see The 68 Cent Theatre Company’s short play festival: ‘Spring Fever’. There are a lot of short play festivals in Manhattan, it seems every weekend someone’s telling me about another one. Short play festivals are generally a good investment for smaller theatre companies. Everyone’s individual input of time is smaller, rehearsals are easier to schedule, the resulting product fills the same time slot as a full length play, and the whole process is less exhausting all around. Not to mention that due to the larger number of writers and cast members involved, the potential audience draw of family and friends is greater. This isn’t to downplay the form or the commitment involved on all sides, in fact next month I’m involved in a short play festival myself (BritBits 8 at ‘Mind the Gap’, expect me to eat some of my words by then), but I’ve been to one or two plays festivals that have been a waste of everyone involved’s time, and were clearly just cash-ins on the ease of the medium. I am happy to report, however, that this is not the case with ‘Spring Fever’, which I found to be unpretentious and pleasantly enjoyable.
There were six shorts in 68 Cent’s evening of one-acts. ‘Midnight Craving’ by Brian Esposito saw a broken-up couple semi-reconciling over a Seamless order. ‘How Many Likes Does it Take?’ by Mariel Matero watched a couple at dinner fighting over their smartphones. ‘The Pickup’ by Morgan Hammel was about a slightly unstable woman trying to pick up a con on community service. ‘Haters’ by Kelly Hushin dealt with two friends’ sex lives, going in to the awkward and occasionally dangerous details. ‘Green Machine’ by Franco Pedicini made bizarre light of street vendors. ‘Recess Wedding’ by Mark Kopas was a satire on the institution of marriage, as told through the eyes of grade schoolers. All were competently written and generally got a good audience response. Reviewing each play individually would take a much longer article than this one, so brace yourself for the edited highlights.
Acting was generally solid across the board in ‘Spring Fever’. Anthony Abdo reminded the audience of the importance of improvisation in ‘Midnight Craving’ by breaking a prop, and fixing it mid-scene. With remarkable grace he was able to recover from knocking a flimsily constructed apartment buzzer off the wall, even using the lines of the scene to explain it away and get a laugh doing it. Brian Esposito, the writer of ‘Craving’, was on fine acting form himself, being endearingly earnest as the child priest, Simon in ‘Recess Wedding’. It takes a special kind of actor who can look completely natural wearing a cardboard crown, cape, and Superman t-shirt. Esposito is just such an actor. As far as sheer watchability goes, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Carmen Scott in ‘The Pickup’. Playing the mildly insane Angela, a woman rabidly trying to seduce a convict picking up litter, she was a perfect storm of energy, amiable neuroses and good humor. Intensely likable, and likably intense. An overall strong showing.
There were a few bits and pieces that didn't quite match up. Enruique Huili, playing the object of Carmen Scott’s affections wasn’t entirely convincing, and didn’t live up to his scene partner. He seemed to be either under-invested or trying too hard. ‘Haters’ by Kelly Hushin, whilst entertaining, seemed to be tonally out of key sometimes. The writing flirted with comedy, drama, and comedy-drama, and never really settled on any, leaving me a little unfulfilled when the lights went down. And try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to like ‘Green Machine’. The subject matter seemed amusing enough: feuding NYC street-vendors being brought to their knees by a strange woman selling ‘Orgasm-Pills’, but while the rest of the audience collapsed in to laughing heaps on the floor, I couldn’t find myself moved to more than a bit of polite smiling. Except for at the end of the scene where Natasa Warasch, for reasons that are not clear, talked in to a phone that she was clearly holding upside-down. Everyone else was quiet at this point. Figures. I’ll put that one down to my own sense of humor, as apparently I was the whole minority.
All things considered, however, I would say that you get your money’s worth with this one. The writing and acting make par easily, and the whole thing hangs together well. If I had to really criticize (and I do stress here that I really did enjoy this show), I would have to say that the writing was a little safe. If the evening had a theme, it would probably be something like ‘The Weirdness of Human Relationships in the 21st Century’. Topics covered included marriage, hybristophilia, the digital age of relationships and kinky sex; all worthy subject matter, and rife for good material. But while the plays were able to talk about them and poke fun, none of them really stripped away layers of pretense from the subject matter or differed from the NYC middle-class accepted viewpoint. iPhones distract from human connection, breaking up is hard, not everyone is ready for marriage. We al know these things, what are you saying that sets you apart? I know they’re short plays, you can’t write a thesis paper in ten minutes. But you can say a lot more than you think. The Gettysburg Address was only two minutes long. But then again, Lincoln wasn’t talking about orgasm pills… moving on.
So, in conclusion, I left ‘Spring Fever’ very well entertained, but unchanged. In the grand scheme of things, I’m perfectly happy about this. If you’re near the Drama Bookshop, get yourself a ticket, it’ll be worth your time. These are people doing what they love to do, and having fun doing it, and that’s always great to see.
68 Cent Theatre Company
Fri, Mar 20 – Sat, Mar 28
Thurs, Fri, Sat 8 pm
$20 at the door