Written and Directed by Neil LaBute, Marco Calvani, Marta Buchaca
Each playwright wrote one of these short plays, directed by another of the authors, and the acting is for the most part stellar. It’s a brisk and engrossing evening of theater.
Each play shines a spotlight on two people enmeshed in power plays, tinted by sadism. Jean Genet’s The Maids, and the more recent Venus in Furs by David Ives come to mind, among others, but the outcomes of these one-on-ones in AdA are more negotiated than in those iconic examples, and less grim.
After the Dark by Marco Calvani, directed by Marta Buchaca, pits a middle-aged lamp designer, Susie (Margaret Colin) who’s burdened with the sense that her best days are behind her, against her aggressive, young employee, Jessie (Gabby Beans). Attending a trade show together – where Susie is determined to “sell everything” — they’re stuck in a cheap hotel that doesn’t serve breakfast, in a room where it takes some imagination to catch the scent of the ocean, all of which Jessie throws at Susie when, fearlessly seizing the upper hand in the relationship, she taunts her employer as “bankrupt.”
It’s surprising, and perhaps out of character, that given Susie’s failing business and Jessie’s narcissistic self-confidence, Jessie turns out not to be aiming to destroy her employer – she’s after a fair deal, a better salary and commission.
As Susie, Colin creates a compelling portrait of a woman beaten down by loss of love and opportunity, of youth, while Jessie makes the most of the handy capital youth can draw on when it plays its cards right – sexual allure.
Summit by Marta Buchaca, directed by Neil LaBute, about politics, corruption and the effect of social media on politics, is the most topical of the plays but (though we’ve lately learned that anything can happen in politics) it’s the least believable. In the Mayor’s office of some city, we witness verbal sparring between the vibrant, idealistic and young Hispanic woman who’s just won election as Mayor, (Dalia Davis), versus the Ex-Mayor (Victor Slezak), an older conservative establishment man whom she’s just thrown out of power.
The new Mayor, in Dalia Davis’ vibrant performance, is in a hurry to get down to running the city and improving life for everyone, especially the poor, but she just can’t get rid of that talky Ex-Mayor. He hangs around, slyly sexist, denigrating her know-how, seeking to undermine her self-confidence, while she maintains her fierce pride in her electoral achievement and certainty in the rightness of her cause — until he explodes a bombshell that staggers her and threatens her position. She comes up with a solution to save herself but, ironically, one that makes us doubt that she can maintain her idealistic reformism. Oh Oh — politics-as-usual looks like the real winner.
The situation that holds these two mayors alone together in what is now her office and her failure to get him out of there is implausible. The play is schematic, and one has to ask why the Ex-Mayor holds back his biggest weapon against his opponent until after he’s lost the election?
In the final round – I mean play! – I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From by Neil LaBute, directed by Maco Calvani, a father, Simon (Richard Kind) and his daughter, Janie (Gia Crovatin), spar over his past wrongs. This play about an anguished relationship is also very funny, which holds an excitement of its own.
Janie’s long list of resentments — her father has treated her carelessly, is a philanderer, his women left diaphragms around — have kept her away from Simon but now, after three years, they meet in some indeterminate cafe. He loves her and yearns to see the child she gave birth to in those years: she’s using those emotions as leverage in order to get him to sign an intriguingly fat document she’s brought along – a document with a content so outlandish it holds, among other things, some great laughs.
Gia Crovatin is powerful as the determined but wacky Janie trying to settle old scores. Richard Kind is passionate and humorous as Simon, a successful businessman and flawed but loving human being who will take it on the chin to save his daughter. Maybe, as the title suggests, Simon doesn’t know what he can save Janie from, but we do: she works it so that whatever he does, for better or worse, she’s the winner, but to do that, she relies on emotional blackmail — and in that set-up, no one is the winner.
This is the most complex and subtle of the plays – the one I’d see again in case I missed something in this interplay of resentment, vengeance, humor and love.
As the program says: Three authors. Three plays. Three directors. One show. The back-lit set by Neil Patel and lighting designed by Alex Jainchill are unifying and lift the details to a universal plane. The three POWER plays leave you with the good feeling of having been well exercised. It’s perhaps surprising that none of these one-on-ones relies on traditional romance. They’re about other things, and they’re refreshing!
After The Dark is translated by Allison Eikerenknetter and Summit is translated by H. J. Gardner.
AdA – POWER – plays at LaMama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre in Manhattan’s East Village through February 5th, 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.
In the best experimental La Mamma tradition. All three portray real people. The middle one was the least dramatic but that topical approach is so important today – before the censors come!