Playwright Neil LaBute (reasons to be pretty, Fat Pig), Italian playwright Marco Calvani (Strong Hands) and Spanish playwright Marta Buchaca (Emergencia) explore power struggles in three one-act plays as part of the this year’s “Author directing Author” series.
Though the roles of playwright and director often overlap in rehearsals, their work is usually distinguished by their jobs; this is what makes “Author directing Author” so special.
The annual series, in its third year, pairs international playwrights who direct each other’s work. Boundaries become non-existent, and the roles are blurred behind the scenes, adding more layers to already poignant pieces.
Each year authors address a particular theme, and this year’s theme, appropriately, tackles power. Nationwide protests over the Trump administration makes this year’s show an especially significant piece of theatre.
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 disorganized assistant (Gabby Beans).
Late into their boozy night, the boss, eager to boost company sales as well as her protégée (who has other plans for the evening), takes part in a cruel game. She reveals her own frailties and true intentions.
The weakest of the three plays, Dark includes many tropes 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 conservative male city mayor (Victor Slezak) is defeated by the female candidate (Dalia Davi) of the left-wing party.
He is in no hurry to leave office; he can’t stomach the idea of a liberal woman taking over his seat. When his successor arrives to assume power, he is cleaning out his desk, ruminating 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 the new mayor’s a racist tweet, made by five years prior to election, is found, she tells her predecessor, “I can assure you one stupid tweet isn’t going to defeat us.”
Voters know this to be all too true with the current president. Every line of the play (even those that don’t mirror current politics), has an integral irony.
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 the grand finale, demonstrating the struggle of power between an estranged father (Richard Kind) and daughter (Gia Crovatin).
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 Kind’s brilliantly natural acting. LaBute’s piece, like much of his work, is peppered with humor in all of the right places, and never trades in poignancy for a laugh.
The disconnect between different age groups and time frames is intelligently brought to life in “Author directing Author.”
The most “powerful” aspect of the show is 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 is playing at La Mama, Ellen Stewart Theatre in Manhattan through February 5th. For tickets, check out the theater’s Web site
Iris Wiener is an entertainment journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Iris_Wiener or visit her Web site.