Though there’s plenty of variety to be found in the Shelter’s anthology of thematically linked one-acts, the entries are alike in the high caliber of their performances and the directors’ and designers’ creative use of the Flamboyan Theater’s three-quarter round stage.
In Glyph, playwright Michael Sean McGuinness looks at a primal competition for female attention. Alpha male Turukk (Chris Cardona) is highly effective at killing mastodons. But it’s the storyteller Moop (Alec A. Head) who gives life a meaning beyond mere survival. Ooma (Tania Verafied) is moved by Moop’s ability to see inside her soul, but Turruk is intolerant of anything that might threaten his supremacy. His brutal treatment of Moop constitutes what may the first instance of censorship. The creative impulse is a hardy one, though, and Moop finds a new language with which to make his mark. Rising to their challenging parts, the cast members create a convincing tableau of prehistoric social order as it takes its first awkward step toward civilization.
Meghan E. Jones’s tautly written and deftly acted two hander, Mark Makes Art, speaks to the age-old question of whether angst-filled art is a healthy outlet with which to vent emotions or a troubling symptom of a deeply disturbed psyche. Appearance-focused Michael (Dave Lankford) resists a school counselor’s suggestion that his son Mark be allowed to have an art exhibit at the school. Artists are weird, he reasons, and even more so when they draw morbid pictures. But his wife, Karen (Beth Jastroch), argues that the grisly images are Mark’s way of processing a recent trauma from which the whole family is still reeling. There is no right answer, but Jones treats both sides of the argument with compassion and insight.
Olivia Killingsworth exhibits pinball-like energy and vocal imagination in Michael Bernstein’s solo piece Robot Girl. The script meanders a bit as the offstage characters and events are discussed in confusing detail, but its vision of an existential ride along a post-apocalyptic highway is a compelling one.
Ginger Kearns mentions in her bio that the This Is a Play About Artists is her first play, and indeed it suffers from the rookie impulse to pour all of life into one script. Still, Kearns, who also acts in the piece, has good comic instincts and shares a potent erotic chemistry with her costar Michael Kingsbaker. As the two artists relive their ecstatic affair and bitter breakup, they skewer every modern movement from the new burlesque to Andy Warhol’s screen tests. Taking up the whole second act of the series, the play runs on too long, but its insightful take on art in the contemporary world provides a fitting bookend to the opening piece about its origins.
The Shelter Presents: Art; Written by Michael Sean McGuinness, Meghan E. Jones; Michael Bernstein & Ginger Kearns; Directed by Catya McMullen, Paco Lozano, Beth Jastroch & Nicole Rosner; Flamboyan Theater; CSV Cultural Center; 107 Suffolk Street; New York, NY 10002; (212) 260-4080