By: Iris Wiener
Though the roles of playwright and director often overlap in the rehearsal process, their work is usually distinguished by their prescribed jobs; this is what makes Author directing Author so special. In the third annual edition of the series that pairs international playwrights with one another as directors of each other’s work, boundaries become non-existent, and the roles behind the scenes are blurred, adding more layers to already poignant pieces.
Each year the authors have addressed a particular theme. While the previous events showcased themes of home and desire, 2017’s theme appropriately tackles power (and with the nation simultaneously participating in protests and marches as the show opened on the 19th, it is an especially significant piece of theatre). Participating American playwright Neil LaBute (reasons to be pretty, Fat Pig), Italian playwright Marco Calvani (Strong Hands), and Spanish playwright Marta Buchaca (Emergencia) explore power struggles of varying natures in three one-act plays, and in doing so have created a phenomenally thought-provoking evening.
Opening the show is After the Dark, a hefty piece written by Calvani. A designer (Magaret Colin) is on a business trip with her young, seemingly disarrayed assistant (Gabby Beans). Late in their boozy night, the boss, eager to boost her company sales as well as her protégée (who has other plans for the evening), takes part in a cruel game, revealing her own fragilities and true intentions. The weakest of the three plays, Dark includes many tropes and a few clichés that detract from its significance. However, Colin’s portrayal of desperation pulls at the gut, as the audience bears witness to her character’s internal struggle to come to terms with how the world has moved on without her. In this story, the power belongs to the youthful and the men, with little allowance for anyone else. Buchaca’s direction is solid but not incredibly interesting.
In Buchaca’s Summit, a male conservative city mayor (Victor Slezak) is defeated by the female candidate of the left-wing party (Dalia Davi). He is in no hurry to leave office, as he can’t stomach the idea of a liberal woman taking over his seat. When his successor arrives to assume power as he is cleaning out his desk, he ruminates on the reasons behind his loss while warding off attacks on the way he ran his district. Buchaca’s piece is timely and honest, questioning the reasons behind constituents’ votes and the effects social media has on current elections. When a racist tweet is found, one that was made by the new mayor five years prior to her current office is, she tells her predecessor, “I can assure you one stupid tweet isn’t going to defeat us.” The United States knows this to be all too true with the current president in office, and as with every line of the play (even those that don’t mirror current politics), there is an integral irony in the sentiment.
LaBute directed Summit with an impeccable eye for timing, juxtaposing his actors’ varying levels of anger and frustration with perfectly calibrated reactive tones. Slezak’s politician posits that “history only celebrates those who are victorious.” The definition of “victory” is up to the audience to define, and can be applied to both the play and the real world in multiple contexts. Summit ends on a humorous yet affecting note, a testament to both Buchaca and LaBute.
LaBute’s I Don’t Know What I Can Save You is a grand finale, demonstrating the struggle of power between an estranged father (Richard Kind) and daughter (Gia Crovatin) who meet to negotiate a new relationship between one another. In a move to grapple with hurt she experienced as a child, Crovatin’s Janie attempts to coerce her father into signing a contract, charging him any time he makes mistakes that he also made when he was raising her. If they continue on as a father and daughter, they both have to contemplate what they are willing to live with or without. Calvani’s direction is superb and inspired by the brilliantly natural acting of Kind. LaBute’s piece, like much of his work, is peppered with humor in all of the right places, never trading in poignancy for a laugh.
The disconnect between different age groups and time frames is intelligently brought to life in Author directing Author, while the most “powerful” aspect of the show is in its ability to explore the many facets of the human desire to be dominant, and what that entails once it has been achieved. This is a celebration of art that is not to be missed.
Author directing Author ****
Ellen Stewart Theatre | 66 East 4th Street (2nd Floor)
For Tickets https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/966828
January 19 – February 05, 2017 Thursday to Saturday at 7PM; Sunday at 4PM Photography: Theo Cote
Iris Wiener is an entertainment journalist. Her work appears on Playbill.com and in TheaterMania, Long Island Woman and Long Island Herald, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter @Iris_Wiener or visit her at IrisWiener.com.