The one-acts in the The Ensemble Studio Theatre Marathon 2010: Series A range from interestingly unsuccessful to quite excellent. Act one begins with Safe, written by Ben Rosenthal and directed by Carolyn Cantor, which explores the effects of loss on a young man and his step-father. While some of the ideas and dialogue are compelling, Safe exists awkwardly between comedy and tragedy, and it doesn't quite acknowledge how seriously damaged its characters are. In Wild Terrain, written by Adam Kraar and directed by Richmond Hoxie, an older couple visit an outdoor art installation. It soon becomes clear that the wife is struggling with dementia. The show rambles a bit, but it is sensitive and touching. And the performers--the always wonderful Marcia Jean Kurtz, Jack Davidson, and Catherine Curtin--acquit themselves admirably. Matthew and the Pastor's Wife, written by Robert Askins and directed by John Giampietro, takes an entertainingly bizarre look at the lengths one person will go to to serve God.
Act two begins with Turnabout, written by Daniel Reitz, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, and featuring excellent performances by Lou Liberatore and Haskell King. Turnabout tells the story of a desperate man begging an ex-lover for help--and the ex-lover's revenge. The show takes too long to get started; in fact, the entire first scene could be jettisoned at little cost and with much gain. However, once the second scene begins--with some, uh, startling costumes--Turnabout settles into a bittersweet examination of gratitude and acceptance. Where the Children Are, written by Amy Fox and directed by Abigail Zealey Bess, presents five characters who have relatives in the military in Iraq. Largely using monologues, and with very little blocking, the play manages to be much more than the sum of its (exceptional) parts. Somehow, Fox, Bess, and the solid cast let us see--and feel--the emotional wounds that war inflicts on soldiers and their loved ones. All in all, Series A deserves an A.