RR LogoEd Asner - Brilliant In Plays In The Park

Plays in the park photo 1

                          Reviewed by Susan Ferrari

The Santa Monica Playhouse, which has been an active theater since the 1960‘s, is the location for an evening of three staged readings of one-act plays written and directed by Brian Connors and starring Ed Asner and Mark Rydell. On Sunday evening, Mr. Connors spoke briefly before the performance, to give the obligatory reminder to turn off cell phones, as well as to mention that these were readings of his plays and that the audience should not expect to see “Spiderman.” His comment was appropriate as this format turned out to be a delightful and enjoyable way to appreciate excellent acting and writing in contrast to the blockbuster movie. The setting is a park with two benches, where each pair of actors struggle with common themes of artistic integrity versus material needs as well as issues of commitment and betrayal in relationships.

Park Strangers features Beege Barkett as the well-respected stage actress, Maureen, who is sitting alone reading through some papers when she is approached by a younger, less experienced colleague, played by Susan Ateh, while they wait for a commercial shoot.  Ms. Ateh is wonderful as the star-struck Dottie, who is “so frickin’ honored” to meet a “former star.” Maureen is reluctant at first to engage in conversation with Dottie, but is gradually drawn into revealing her personal story as they argue over the merits of doing commercial work for an offensive corporation in order to pay their bills. Both actresses show great range as they come from separate places to find a common humanity.

In Swans, Dahlia Waingort and Esai Morales play a couple who have been living together for three years and are in obvious conflict at a crossroads in their relationship. Somewhat stereotypically, she presses him to marry her and start a family, while he resists this scenario, because he is committed to his vocation as a painter. This battle of the sexes is cleverly portrayed as a bitter back and forth game with a surprisingly sweet outcome.

Ed Asner and Mark Rydell mines the humor in depression and aging in Oxymorons, as two brothers with old issues to settle in the midst of a present crisis in Rydell’s character, Joey’s, life. Both Mr. Asner and Mr. Rydell have exquisite timing, and it is a pleasure to see Mr. Asner get the most out of every word, gesture, and facial expression as he tries to placate his brother. As was the case with the previous two plays, the conflict between the characters is somewhat resolved by the act of having a dialogue. No matter how the emotions are expressed, they are better off for having shared them with each other.

Ed Asner will be leaving the production after this weekend to appear on Broadway in the new play Grace with Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon. His part will be taken next weekend by the actor George Segal. The play runs through Sunday, August 12, with regular show times on Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 and 7:00 pm.

Susan Ferrari is a musician and writer. She currently reviews shows for Riveting Riffs in both Boston and Los Angeles.

Photo: Ed Asner and Mark Rydell, photo by Brian Connors, Protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved

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