The one-act play is a delicate creature. It must tell a captivating story with nonstop momentum, feature interesting characters and display a vibrant theatricality – all in about ten to thirty minutes. One-act festivals where short plays are featured by different writers are prominent in the summertime when most Off-Broadway theaters lack commercial tenants. Let’s look at the pros and cons of two such events: “Young Playwrights Festival XXIV” and “Marathon 2006.”
Founded by Stephen Sondheim, Young Playwrights Festival is the only professional theater company dedicated to producing the work of playwrights under the age of 18. It is an invaluable enterprise, encouraging novices to write and develop their dramatic skills. And I really wish that I could recommend this showcase of one-acts by three female teenagers. But at $35 a ticket, they are still not ready for Off-Broadway.
The most successful of the three offerings is “Suicide Club” by Miriam Eichenbaum, which studies at three girls at a Catholic high school who have attempted to commit suicide. They slowly confront their demons till they are ready to embrace life by graduation day. The play’s problem lies in how it attempts to tackle too many characters and scenes, leading to superficiality.
On the other hand, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Marathon is considered to be New York’s preeminent forum for new one-acts, showcasing the work of professionals like Horton Foote, Christopher Durang, and David Mamet. “Marathon 2006” features eleven premieres in three separate evenings. I attended the first series earlier this week, which features one-acts by David Ives, Anton Dudley, Amy Fox and Lloyd Suh.
Though the evening offered smart writing and good production values, it was more of a writers’ workshop than a coherent evening of theater. The best of the four offerings was “The Other Woman” by David Ives, who is well-known for his absurdist one-acts like “Variations on the Death of Trotsky.” Here, Ives attempts to create an erotic thriller about a man who has an affair with his wife’s altar ego, who appears when she is sleepwalking.
The only one-act evenings that become memorable are those connected by a single playwright or theme such as Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” where three one-acts take place in the same hotel room. Still, events like Young Playwrights Festival and Marathon offer an important resource where playwrights can develop work and audiences can take a look at raw product.
Young Playwrights Festival XXIV, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, 212-279-4200, $35. Schedule varies. Through Saturday.
Marathon 2006, Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street, 212-352-3101, $18. Schedule varies. Through June 25.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.