Carol Rosegg

Summer Shorts Series A

Reviewer's Rating

The perfectly curated “Summer Shorts” series at 59E59 Theaters manages to give a loving spotlight to three distinct and smart voices. “Summer Shorts” binds together the intents and explorations of these playwrights into a succinct 90-minute showcase of what the new generation of writers is capable of. If one theme can be given, it would be this: the voices you don’t often hear, speaking to the issues you thought you knew all about.

The Living Room may be Robert O’Hara’s most intimate satire yet: it quite literally takes place in his head. Judy and Frank are just normal white people, and they are obsessed with understanding why they’ve been placed in a living room, and what purpose they serve. They seem bored with us (the audience), and the God-like figure they gesture up to (supposedly O’Hara), and seem doomed to repeat this cycle in the mind of a black playwright. Unlike O’Hara’s other satires, The Living Room doesn’t give the audience the satisfaction of “figuring out” the satire. There is no game to play here. O’Hara offers the audience a chance to get lost in the madness of the voices in his head, and constantly question the conclusions you could draw from them.

Abby Rosebrock’s Kenny’s Tavern follows two school teachers over drinks as they gently numb the heartbreak over their affair that must end. It is more or less a love scene that begins in the low-stakes style of a Noah Baumbach-Greta Gerwig collaboration, but is spiced up with one lynchpin of a setting: a North Carolina dive bar on the evening November 5th, 2016. The recognition of this lost time then looms over the rest of the play’s 20-minute run: “Oh those poor souls, they have no idea.” But the situations of Rosebrock’s everyday characters seem so bleak that the results won’t matter. We don’t know what to make of their shaky values, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum. Only in the play’s final moments is an action of compassion made, and it’s only a relief in that we know what struggles wait for them (and the rest of America) down the road.

The #MeToo movement is given complete and at times gut-wrenching life in Chris Bohjalian’s “Grounded”. Two flight attendants get to know each other, and it’s quickly found out that one is terrified of what is to be her first overseas flight. They pick fun, but they are also quick to judge each other. Gradually, the newly-minted Emily spills to Karen why she ended up in the occupation she holds: it’s been a dark road to this point, and Emily should know what’s best for all her and all involved. But it’s not that simple. This play gives much-needed space to the women of #MeToo who aren’t quite ready to post that hashtag yet. Though framed in the somewhat obvious metaphor of flying and being free, “Grounded” paints a more complex picture of what it means to gain empowerment in a culture where consequences still loom fierce.

The political banter of our social media is the most indulgent form of reflection and currency, but the plays of the “Summer Shorts” series are the antidotes to believing we have all the answers.