Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer Shorts 3: Series B

Traditionally, festivals are thrown for events worth celebrating. Now, there are new American short plays worth celebrating, but you won't find any of them in Summer Shorts 3, or at least, not in Series B, the back four of this "festival of new American short plays." Instead, you'll get four lazily written, lazily directed, and lazily acted shows--American, yes, celebratory, no.

Carole Real's Don't Say Another Word at least takes its own advice. At under ten minutes it's not able to define its characters or their relationship, but it isn't able to offend anyone, either. Real is understandably in a tight spot--she picks the uber-cliched scenario of a couple eating out, and then walks right into recently trod ground when the casual Josh (Andy Grotelueschen) unthinkingly mentions to Laura (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) that she's not his type. She avoids LaBute's Reasons To Be Pretty only by remaining painfully passive, with each character quickly forgiving the other: easy to do when there are no stakes.

The Sin Eater, on the other hand, has high stakes--all Greek and shit, as El (Clara Hopkins Daniels) puts it to her therapist, Candice (Jamie Watkins), after threatening to kill her own mother, Cleo (Rosayn Coleman), who has just been acquitted for killing her husband, El's father. In fact, at one point, Keith Reddin has the characters slip into Shakespearean prose, which is not the sort of gauntlet a writer as erratic as Reddin wants to be throwing down. Into this revenge fantasy, Reddin crams a guilt-ridden detective, Alex (J. J. Kandel), who out-of-the-blue espouses on "the sin eater" title; an expositional friend of El's (Teala Dunn); and El's deus-ex-machina brother, Orel (Sheldon Woodley). The only thing Reddin has going for him is the good casting of Coleman, and the abysmal casting of Daniels who, thankfully, will soon be in high school, at which point we can take the kid gloves off.

As a director, Billy Hopkins has better luck with Roger Hedden's If I Had. There's more meat behind the complaints of "lawn maintenance professionals" Augie (Andy Powers) and Slim (Shane McRae), who despite being well-paid to mow lawns by rich people, resent their own comparative poverty. The neat trick here is that Slim is educated enough to not resent people like Audrey (Emily Tremaine) simply for their wealth; it gives Augie an actual foil to push against, and both Powers and McRae play their parts rather solidly.

The real insult of the night is William Inge's The Killing. Inge's been dead since 1973, this play qualifies as a "new American short" only in the sense that it has never been produced before. And with good reason: there's little drama in the tired back-and-forth of a man who wants to die and a man who is reluctant to kill him. Neal Huff does a terrific job portraying the lonely Mac, who has seduced the easy-going Huey (Kandel) back to his home in the hopes of being killed. (Mac's a Catholic, and can't do it himself.) But he can't conjure up suspense, and Kandel plays his part with such indifference that his reluctance comes as the real surprise--and not in a good way.

If these had been Winter Shorts, the sort of our Discontent, the collection might at least make a dismal sort of sense. As is, Summer Shorts 3 is just a cruel waste of a summer's day.


José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

"The real insult" is that someone would begrudge the production of a play because its great author is deceased or because it was written years ago. And, that in writing about this production of “The Killing” by William Inge (a legend), that the reviewer could be so lazy as to not even know or mention that Mr. Inge, committed suicide just as the play's protagonist, and for the same reason: your kind of indifference. How could someone worth the title of “critic” today in reviewing the work of a major playwright and about an isolated individual who begs for relief from his suffering, how could the reviewer fail to see the connection of “The Killing’s” subject matter to recent headlines about how a contemporary and phenomenal artist lost his life due to the same pain from isolation. It is your kind of lazy reviewing that kills the theater, for someone might mistaken your "indifference" that Kandel so brilliantly reflects back to you, as actual insight and believe you and thus miss out on what others are enjoying immensely, and that your flip style has any meaning whatsoever. Moderate and post if you please. -- José Angel Santana, I directed the production. Yes, Neal Huff's performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Tom Hoefner said...

You know, I haven't seen "The Killer", but I don't think it's a crime that the reviewer didn't make a connection between Inge's play and Michael Jackson. And he DOES say Mr. Huff is terrific, as was also pointed out by Dr. Santana. I can see how calling the piece the "real insult" of the night can sting the creative team behind it, but as I read the review, the critic's biggest problems were 1.) including a 36 year old play in a showcase of "new" plays (a defensible criticism), and 2.) the play itself. Anyone is allowed to dislike a play, even one by a "legend" such as Mr. Inge. Even Shakespeare had his clunkers, you know?

Oh, and I hate to point this out, but this sentence:

"It is your kind of lazy reviewing that kills the theater, for someone might mistaken your 'indifference' that Kandel so brilliantly reflects back to you, as actual insight and believe you and thus miss out on what others are enjoying immensely, and that your flip style has any meaning whatsoever."

That sentence makes no sense. Take out an "n" and a comma, and maybe you'll be on to something. As is, the sentence is meaningless. Just FYI.

But good luck with the rest of your run! And don't let the critics get you too far down. They have a job to do, too.

José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your reply. We all make our mistakes and write carelessly online, I reckon. The name of the play is "The Killing." And yes, of course anyone is "allowed" to dislike ANY play. In his blog post, the reviewer allotted 125 words to a 36 year old play. Yes, by one of the most important and successful playwrights and screenwriters in North American Arts and Entertainment history. Without wondering why we might have chosen that play.

Is it possible that the play sucks? Of course. Is it possible the production sucks? Neither is the case. And by beginning the review as he did, he almost disqualifies himself from any further meaningful comment on “The Killing.” Because if the review's premise is that it’s an insult to include the play in the festival, then why bother to pretend to contribute any meaningful or useful ideas about the play to the theater.

For example, Neal Huff's performance is astounding, and it could not be so, if it didn't conjure suspense. As for Kandel; suicides and those who wittingly or unwittingly assist them are a strange bunch, disturbing in their behavior that does not fit into anything that most people have ever seen. I fight for this perspective because I attended the same performance as the reviewer, and many many strangers, and seasoned theater professionals were stunned at what a "find" this play has been. Amazed at how relevant it is to so many aspects of our everyday lives; of how we can get sucked into enabling the victims in our lives, to our own tragic determent. And, how the drama of this situation is so often in what we DON’T do, not in what we do.

How various audience members said, "I was hoping until the very end that it wouldn't happen." So, yeah by pre-judging a 36 year old play would take you out of the drama, without a doubt.

Tom, thanks for the discourse. And thanks for the well wishes for the rest of the run; so far it's been a blast. (If you read my run-on sentence in my original post a few times, you'll figure out the few things I'm saying at once. It's not all that important anyway. I'm sure there is more like that here as well.

All the best, José Angel Santana

José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

On the importance of the rediscovery of William Inge's work:

New York Times, August 6, 2009. "Out of Kansas, Into the World: A Trove of Inge Plays" By DAVID BELCHER. (

Other views from the same performance as reviewed here - Sunday, August 2, 2009.

Reviewed By: Dan Bacalzo • Aug 6, 2009 • New York.

William Inge's never-before-produced one-act "The Killing" is the main reason to see Summer Shorts 3 Series B, now at 59E59 Theaters. In it, Mac (Neal Huff) brings Huey (J.J. Kandel) back to his apartment for what initially seems like a sexual pick-up. Certainly, that's what Huey thinks he's there for, but Mac has a darker purpose in mind. He makes an unusual request that places Huey in a moral bind. The situation could easily tip over into melodrama, but director Jose Angel Santana's perfectly modulated production keeps the action grounded. He elicits nuanced performances from his two actors, with Huff exuding a quiet desperation and Kandel speaking in slow, measured tones that give weight to the crucial choice his character must eventually make. (THEATERMAINA: review
Jo Ann Rosen • August 4, 2009.

Jose Angel Santana makes a fine New York directorial debut with a revival of William Inge's The Killing.Through the use of pauses and awkward silences, Santana furthers the psychological drama theplaywright so aptly captured in his words. The play opens with Mac, a lonely bachelor, ushering Huey, a bar pick-up, into his apartment. The plot unfolds slowly, shifting power from one character to the other until the very end. Neal Huff as Mac, a sorry sort, maintains his dignity throughout. J. J. Kandel imbues Huey with spunk, confidence, and empathy. Who wins? Ah. Both characters are in the hands of the devil, and Santana maintains a beautiful balancing act until the very end. (

For the record.

Aaron Riccio said...

Jose, I am curious about one thing, though. You get hung up on the opening of my review, but you seem to have no problem with nytheatre's: if you can dismiss observations based on a fallacious premise, why not stop reading when Jo Ann makes the mistake of calling "The Killing" a revival?

And then of course, it also sounds like the two reviewers saw different actors: "nuance" and "slow measured tones" hardly seem like the affects of someone with "spunk" and "confidence," the point being, everybody takes something different away from a show, which is why reviews--including mine--should rarely be read as more than an indicator of quality and taste.

I stand by my observations; I just wish I'd expressed them more fully.

José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

Aaron, I’m very surprised that one cannot discern the difference between mistakenly referring to a play as a “revival” and establishing the premise of a review of a master dramatist’s work thusly: “The real insult of the night is William Inge's The Killing. Inge's been dead since 1973, this play qualifies as a "new American short" only in the sense that it has never been produced before.” The former is a mere error of fact; the later is an explicit expression of degradation. And, one that suggests, carries, contempt for that which one beholds.

“Hung up”



That a theater critic would hold the presentation of even a “bad” play by a master as an insult is in itself degrading to all those who give “the critic” the benefit of the doubt that they have something of value to offer because they love the theater; which, the dismissal of any work of a master brings into question.

I’m sorry man, you just don’t do that. Would a found Williams, Miller, Strindberg, Chekhov play receive such short shrift?

Other’s have commented to me that I should simply ignore your comment as “drivel” because it’s like calling a newly found “bad” Francis Bacon painting among an exhibit of new works, an “insult.” To not be “hung up” on this kind of thing would be an insult to what we do.

I encourage you to “stand by your observations” because I would never argue “taste” with anyone, however, viewing our production through the lens of - “The real insult of the night is William Inge's The Killing. Inge's been dead since 1973, this play qualifies as a "new American short" only in the sense that it has never been produced before.” – viewing our production through that lens will ONLY yield a distorted vision.

While viewing our play, though mistakenly, as a “revival” does nothing to change the quality of the viewing, as it is totally and utterly value neutral.

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to express my views here.


Aaron Riccio said...

Jose, as I think I said to you either via e-mail or in one of these comments, there's no "degradation" expressed toward Inge because he's dead--it's an insult because it's a bad play; if anything, it's an insult to Inge, though without knowing the reasons for him not publishing this work, it's hard to say. (In the sense that publication of Nabokov's "new" book is an insult to the author, who wished for it to be burned.)

The point was that there was a good reason it had never been produced before, and as I said before, the fault in the sentence is that it leaves the door open for the "insult" being misread. The actual premise (which you misrepresent every time you quote just the opening of that paragraph) was that these were four plays NOT worth celebrating. (THAT is an explicit statement of degradation--but not a premeditated one; that's what I took away from a wasted evening, and that's what, for better or worse, I reacted to.)

It's sort of a problem in this country that names are equated with an innate value, as if an Inge play or a Bacon painting should be prized regardless of actual worth. Then again, there are as many people out there who will defend even the worst Beckett as there are those who will defend it. Of course we're at odds about this: you were touched by this play--enough to direct it--and I was not. If you want to take that as drivel, that's fine.

Aaron Riccio said...

Actually, one more thing. You say: "Would a found Williams, Miller, Strindberg, Chekhov play receive such short shrift*?" Sadly (as the Times article shows), no, it wouldn't. Instead, it'll be the potentially better NEW plays out there that get the short shrift. Note that the Times hasn't actually reviewed Series B--instead, because it ran a feature on "The Killing" instead, you might say it gave short shrift to the other playwrights in the series.

*(I didn't actually give it "short shrift" here, either. It gets about as many words as any of the other plays that were part of this festival. If anything, it's the review you quote that gives it short shrift: it spends more time talking about each of the other shows--including the vapid 9-minute opener--than about Inge's play. And that's not counting all the newspapers and magazines who gave Inge even shorter shrift by not covering the show--though who knows, maybe they're on their way now.)

José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

And the conversation continues:
Ok, Aaron, taking what you are saying at face value, how can a play, a play, a work of art, be an “insult”? “An insult to Inge,” that his play, which he did not destroy, that is among a collection of many plays that he left behind, that it’s “an insult to Inge.” Hmm . . .

Again, I don’t know what world this makes sense in.

Is this simply about "opinion"?

“. . . because it’s a bad play.” Well, that is easy to say/write, but I nor any reader has any basis to accept your view since you do not provide any dramaturgical foundation for your “opinion” and if “opinion” is what this is about, then we are wasting our time. What is your criterion for a “good” play, such that you label any play a “bad” play.

In “The Killing” Mac makes a request, a large and dark one at that, and then what happens is that Huey proceeds to both try and dissuade Mac, and struggle with his own moral dilemma because he could use the money. Now, there is hardly anything structurally unsound about that narrative, and if there is a problem with any of that as presented by us, it’s not with the play, but with the presenters. And, like I’ve said, and others are quoted here, so far you are alone, and I’m not kidding, in your assessment.

I also value the views of the lone voice so I wouldn't make a big deal about it, I just mean that "The Killing" as a "bad" play is so far a minority position.

“The point was that there was a good reason it had never been produced before . . .”

What is his good reason, beyond the opinion that it's a bad play?

So then, one should never see, “Timon of Athens” performed, as this would be an insult to viewers and William Shakespeare?

Aaron, I did not open my assessment of our production as it was done in your review, I can only take things as you do, as I see them. I can say that you are misrepresenting our production, I’ve not done that. I only take issue with the lens through which you view it - "insult" and now "bad."

No play can be an insult; no work of art can be an insult. That’s like saying a cartoon of “Mohammad” is an insult; or Serrano’s “Piss Christ” is an insult; or “Rock and Roll” is an insult. To moralize about art is anti-art. You either like it or you don’t. If a critic, measure it by the author’s intent, and tell us why. End of story.

“. . . you were touched by this play--enough to direct it--and I was not.” Agreed.

No, someone else suggested I take it as “drivel” . . . I do not or I’d be “driveling” myself in having this discussion. Like the characters in “The Killing” we are just going back-and-forth.

I like this discussion.


José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

On your "One more thing comment."

Do we really need to get here . . . ?

It's the quality not the quantity. Everyone knows that.


José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

Ok, so dig.

You don’t see me jumping all up and down because he doesn't think it’s all perfect. But, Mr. Sheward gives the presentation the respect it deserves.

Reviewed by David Sheward
August 07, 2009

“The evening concludes with "The Killing," a recently unearthed William Inge work with autobiographical overtones. At first, the short piece seems to be a gay seduction scene, with two middle-aged men having a drink at the apartment of one of them after meeting in a bar. But the tone shifts when the depressed Mac (Neal Huff) begs his new acquaintance Huey (J.J. Kandel again) to shoot him. Mac cannot do the job himself because of his religious belief that taking your own life is a sin. The play is a short scream of anguish, given resonance if you know that Inge was unhappy about his homosexuality and committed suicide in 1973. Huff, Kandel, and director José Angel Santana give these lonely souls an aching presence. But the brief script has too many holes. Why would Huey, who has just met Mac, consent to such a crazy scheme? Why wouldn't he just leave? Or if he felt truly sorry for Mac, why not call the police? "The Killing" is chiefly valuable as a new addition to the canon of one of America's underappreciated playwrights, but the performances make it worth seeing.” (

You know what I'm sayin'?


Aaron Riccio said...

re: "One more thing"; this brings me back to my earlier point--if "quality" and not "quantity" is the issue, then why not dismiss a review with factual errors in it?

Can a play can be an insult? That's semantic, let's move on: I thought I was clear, clearly I wasn't.

Now, Inge obviously made a choice *not* to produce these works (in fact, were they even published?); perhaps he thought they were bad, perhaps he just didn't want to deal with the critical response. You're asking the same question:

"What is [Inge's] good reason [for not producing this play before], beyond the opinion that it's a bad play?"

Given a lack of good reasons, what else can I arrive at? We're left with opinions (interpretations). Your view of Michael Jackson is an opinion. Your stance on Huey and Mac is an opinion (or else Kandel and Huff wouldn't need you). All a review can do is provide educated opinions: mine are based on my theatergoing experience.

A critic is not a dramaturg, dealing in fact. But I do explain what facts I find lacking: "there's little drama in the tired back-and-forth." In fact, the majority of that paragraph is spent pointing out what didn't work for me, and why. I could have been clearer; I was not, we should probably move on from that point, too.

Finally, I'm not saying you can't do previously unproduced work, nor even that it will necessarily be bad (though you'll find plenty of "Timon" detractors): I'm just saying that *THIS* production is an insult to one-act play festivals, a dramatic let-down.

This is not a matter of "misrepresenting your production," as I'm not stating anything as FACT, only as OPINION (and I'm not wrong about any of the FACTS I've included). You take issue with the lens through which I viewed it, but there is no lens, or rather, my eyesight was the same as any other audience member's. The difference is how it hit my head, my heart, and my gut. The only people who look at this production through other eyes are those who have something invested in it.

But I fear that we're both getting tangled up molehills rather than mountains: I'm less interested in what you take issue with than I am in hearing more about what you actually see. I wish I were able to see "The Killing" as you do, or, if I'm really "greatly" in the minority (there's been three reviews), to see it as others do. That's why I posted separately, saying that I wanted to do a better job in the future of representing to you what I actually see.

Aaron Riccio said...

Actually, that Backstage review represents the sort of criticism I abhor, so I'm glad you bring it up. If the script has "so many holes," then why IS it valuable as an addition to the canon? Perhaps it's useful from a scholarly perspective, but it's irrelevant when reviewing a show. A new Inge play doesn't automatically warrant respect--especially to the casual theatergoer--and I'll judge his work--autobiographical howl for help or not--just as I would any playwright's. I actually think that's a mark of fairness.

José Angel Santana, Ph.D. said...

OK, now I understand. We are in the realm of "opinion." I have nothing more to say. You are wholly entitled to yours. Go well.