LA Review: 'Short Ends'

at the Open Fist Theatre Company as part of the First Look Festival

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

July 15, 2012


As the first offering of the Open Fist Theatre Company's annual First Look Festival, "Short Ends" features five unrelated pieces by Neil LaBute. This continues the celebrated playwright and film writer–director's alliance with this company, where his one-act "The New Testament" debuted as part of the same fest in 2009. Anything by LaBute is always welcome, but with a running time of a little more than an hour and including a decidedly mixed bag of material and performances, even diehard LaBute fans may find "Short Ends" a bit disappointing.

Overall, director Amanda Weier's staging is a clever complement to the writing, but the acting is not a fitting indicator of what can customarily be expected of this fine company of players. Weier's most obvious contribution is the inclusion of Shermel Carthan, who plays a homeless beggar in "The Wager" and also appears between each of the pieces, waiting just offstage with his prop-filled shopping cart, to change the set and inscribe the name of each new offering on the stage floor in chalk. Stationed outside the theater before the show while holding a sign asking for spare change—something so frequent in this Hollywood location that most people avert their eyes—Carthan then enters the lobby and wanders onstage as the audience is seated. The collective touch of danger running through the house proves what LaBute is jabbing into our ribs: We have forgotten how to deal with anyone not like us, those lurking "beneath the charred and discarded corpses left by the roadside."

Carthan is filled with personality but needs to be held down at times in "The Wager," which would be better if all three actors didn't work so hard. The same is true of Maxie Solters in a frantic monologue spoken to the silent Jessica Ires Morris in "Sexting." The opposite is the case as Colin Walker paces aimlessly in the world premiere of the solo "Pony of Love." Walker should have traded a little of the imperviousness in his delivery for a dollop of Solters' indulgence. Dylan Maddalena and Catherine Urbanek have the most fun in "BFF," milking great comic moments from a script with a twist ending that's too easily guessed. In "Romance," Morris returns to give the evening's most outstandingly simple and direct performance, but her castmate Elizabeth Greer overdoes showing us how upset her character is.

There is a hint of LaBute's signature habit of launching direct hits on the mores of our species as we hurl ourselves thoughtlessly into an increasingly screwed-up future. Still, when "Short Ends" arrives at its expedient end, it leaves us unaffected—coming up, well, short.
 
Presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre Company as part of the First Look Festival, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. July 13–Aug. 4. Remaining performances: Sun., July 22, 2 p.m.; Sat., July 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 29, 2 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 4, 2 p.m. (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org.
 

 
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