Each series of Summer Shorts, the annual one-act play festival, offers a lesson. In the case of this year’s Series B, it is this: Sometimes even the thinnest and most well-worn premise can be invigorated by a writer with an eye for the telling detail. Such is the case with Marian Fontana‘s “Falling Short,” which at first appears to offer little more than a standard blind-date premise. Lee is a magazine writer who, when not complaining about her work (“I am writing about the rise of chicken farming in Brooklyn,” she says, oozing self-disgust), trolls an Internet dating site for a suitable man; in a fast-paced sequence we see her considering, and dropping, a parade of possible swains. Fontana has a solid grasp of the clichés of the meet-market world, and these, contrasted with Lee’s disgruntled dismissals, make for solid, if familiar, fun.
There’s also nothing out of the ordinary — at least at first — about the following scene, either, although Fontana has a sharp eye for certain pretensions of New York life. Lee awaits her date in a trendy restaurant that specializes in “Asian-soul food fusion,” offering such delicacies as cornbread-miso soup and cocktails with names like “smore the better.” (According to her waiter, “It’s got marshmallow- infused vodka, chocolate liquor, and a smoky, locally distilled bourbon for a graham cracker finish.”) Her date is Nate, an actor working with an avant-garde theatre group, who pays the bills by appearing at a Renaissance fair in New Jersey. The first thing Lee notices is that Nate has lied about his height; as it happens, both of them have not been forthcoming in their online profiles, and, as the truth comes out, the picture darkens considerably. But Fontana handles this with such delicacy and honesty that, by the end, you’ll be positively rooting for them to get together.
Even so, “Falling Short” might not work without Alexander Dinelaris‘ sensitive direction or three perfectly timed performances. Kendra Mylnechuk‘s Lee moves from cynical resignation to guarded hope so swiftly and subtly that it’s hard to take your eyes off her. She has an ideal partner in J.J. Kandel‘s Eric. Also fine is Shane Patrick Kearns as the oversharing gay waiter, another clichéd role given the kiss of life here; he also appears as all of Lee’s Internet discards Fontana is probably best known for her memoir, A Widow’s Walk, but on the evidence here, she has real promise as a playwright.
Series B in the Summer Shorts program at the 59E59 Theaters is a mixed bag, though consistently intriguing. Comedy is the order of the evening, and that’s more than welcome on a summer night.
Marian Fontana’s “Falling Short” presents a food writer (Kendra Mylnechuk) meeting a succession of online dates (mostly played by Shane Patrick Kearns). She eventually spends an often awkward meal with an eccentric actor (J. J. Kandel), attended by a wry gay waiter (Mr. Kearns again). Ms. Fontana is handy with a one-liner, and Ms. Mylnechuk, as directed by Alexander Dinelaris, is adroit at delivering them. (She is also a skilled collaborator, letting her co-stars shine when appropriate.) Though the revelation of her character’s past is all too predictable, it does make for an effective bittersweet ending.
Summer Shorts 2013 continues through Aug. 31 at the 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Manhattan; (212) 279-4200, ticketcentral.com.
In this second set of well-produced, worthy one-acts (in repertory with Series A), the strong kickoff is Marian Fontana’s “Falling Short,” directed by Alexander Dinelaris. Kendra Mylnechuk, Shane Patrick Kearns, and J. J. Kandel play participants in the current, online-driven city dating scene.
Review from Theater Scene. Net
Kendra Mylnechuk, Shane Patrick Kearns and J.J. Kandel in a scene from Marian Fontana’s “Falling Short” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
The curtain raiser, Marian Fontana’s “Falling Short” is an amusing satire on computer dating. While Lee, a New York journalist, goes online to find a blind date of her choice, two men appear to play the computer contacts she makes. Skilled at reading between the lines, she cuts them off as soon as she discovers their drawbacks. When she goes to dinner with the date of her choice, he turns out not to be as tall as he claimed, as well as having lied about others things in his life. Known for her commentaries that have appeared on This American Life and All Things Considered, Fontana’s humor is both fresh and telling. J.J. Kandel (executive producer of Summer Shorts) is hilarious as the blind date who thinks it is all right to lie because everybody does it. Shane Patrick Kearns is even funnier as all the other potential hook-ups as well as the gay waiter in the restaurant with his own war stories to tell. Kendra Mylnechuk as the woman who has exhausted most routes for finding a boyfriend is fine as a cynical woman who has heard almost everything. Alexander Dinelaris, a playwright of much talent himself, keeps this trifle bubbling along.
Praise for A Widow’s Walk
“Gripping. Fontanta’s firefighter husband died in the World Trade Center, Her narrative skill draws the reader in.”
—The Washington Post
“Deeply affecting, terribly poignant memoir.”
—John Marshall, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Marian Fontana has written a spectacularly beautiful, insightful, and wrenching memoir detailing the year that followed her personal, and collective, tragedy.”
—Parent + Teacher Exchange
“Fontana’s own story is one of almost unbearable grief, slow recovery, and, ultimately, personal growth. She is a graceful writer, and the book is emotional without being maudlin.”
—David Pitt, Booklist
“A 9/11 widow’s remarkable memoir makes a much-covered public event into a riveting private narrative….”A Widow’s Walk,” manages to make an exhaustively covered public event into a riveting private narrative. Fontana, who’s written and performed comedy, has a sharp eye for detail and filled her account with rich characters, vivid scenes and a vast range of emotions. There’s her desperate, volcanic heartbreak, of course, but she’s also a keen recorder of the nuances of human feeling and behavior; she even gives her sorrowful story unexpected flashes of irreverent humor.”
—Cathleen McGuigan, Newsweek
“Fontana’s keen eye and ear make for an absorbing account of the first year of coping with historic tragedy….With its built-in drama and pathos and excellent pacing, this book should bring Fontana to the attention of talk shows nationwide.”
“Intelligent and insightful, honest and humorous.”
—Anne Neville, The Buffalo News
“In her courageous book, A Widow’s Walk, Marian Fontana, brings us into the life of a firefighter’s wife, and shows us a mother’s love that transcends all hurt, and a widow’s love that preserves the memory of her husband Dave as beautiful a husband and father as can be found. This book is a homage to him, and to all those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center. There is literary greatness in this book which even the best of today’s fiction cannot stand up to.We see a woman who resolves to bring the 9/11 families together to protect their interest the country’s interest in preserving the honor that accompanied our greatest tragedy. There is no better way to mark that honor than to read this story.”
—Dennis Smith, author of Report From Ground Zero
—People magazine, December 26, 2005
“A Widow’s Walk is not only a deeply moving portrait of familial grief, a tribute to the firefighters who died on 9/11, a call to action for justice for those most affected by the tragedy, and an insider’s bracing take on the political machinations that followed, but also, a snapshot of our country at a time of crisis. The miracle of Fontana’s tale is that it is somehow funny painfully funny and true-to-life, and redemptive. It makes you wonder how we, as a nation, have gone so long without this book.”
—Elissa Schappell, author of Use Me and The Friend Who Got Away
“More than a chronicle of grief, more than a tale of how tragedy prompted courageous activism, A Widow’s Walk is a love story. How sweet and wonderful that Marian Fontana introduces us not just to the hero firefighter that perished in 9/11, but also to the loving husband, doting father, and steadfast friend that Dave Fontana so clearly was.”
—Philip Van Munching, author of Boys Will Put You On A Pedestal
“A memoir remarkable for its keen, close descriptions and characterizations, its humor and strength, and its great, hope-filled heart.”
—Elle magazine (September)
“But more than anything, Fontana exhibits in her writing and through her dedication and work with the 9/11 Widows and Victims Family Association an indestructible spirit and a deep love for one of the many men who gave everything they had.”
—Helen Ubinas, Herald News
—Vanity Fair, September, 2005
September 11, 2001, was the eighth anniversary of Fontana’s wedding to firefighter Dave-they had plans for a night on the town-and the second day of kindergarten for their son, Aidan. Dave’s last call to her was from the World Trade Tower site after the first plane crashed; he promised to call back in 20 minutes. “This is the worst day of my life,” he said. The first chapters of this book follow the grim days of waiting and hoping almost hour by hour, then chronicle the first few of an endless succession of wakes and funerals. Nothing about this widowhood was normal, including its morbid celebrity, the attention of Mayor Giuliani and Senator Clinton and the sometimes predatory media, and the gifts and perks showered on the families. Fontana quickly became a leader in the sisterhood of grieving women (Dave’s Brooklyn company, Squad 1, lost 12 men) and is now the president of the 9/11 Widows and Victims’ Family Association. Her book is far more personal than political, however, and Fontana’s keen eye and ear make for an absorbing account of the first year of coping with historic tragedy. Trained as a comedian and actress, she has been writing skits and monologues since graduating from the High School of Performing Arts, and her observations are colorful, often funny and sometimes merciless. With its built-in drama and pathos and excellent pacing, this book should bring Fontana to the attention of talk shows nationwide. Agent, Susan Golomb. (Sept.)
—Publishers Weekly, August 1, 2005
Fontana tugs at the heartstrings in this engrossing, inspiring 9/11 memoir. The author married firefighter Dave Fontana on September 11, 1993, and they were supposed to spend their eighth wedding anniversary toddling hand-in-hand through the Whitney Museum. But Dave never made it home that day; he died at Ground Zero. Marian mourned, gave countless interviews to reporters, planned Dave’s wake, wrote his eulogy and conferred with other widows. Gradually, she became a skilled political organizer, founding the 9-11 Widows’ and Victims’ Families Association. She used her new found media cachet to educate people about the lousy wages firefighters are paid and to weigh in on the debates surrounding compensation to victims’ families. She met with mayors and senators, and she now serves on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s Family Advisory Committee. Fontana is a good writer, with an ear for phrasing and a focus on small, poignant details: We see her plucking strands of salt-and-pepper hair from Dave’s hairbrush, because she needs a sample of his DNA and brushing her teeth with his toothbrush, “secretly pretend[ing] I was being kissed.” An impassioned, non-manipulative memorial, timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of 9/11.
—Kirkus Review, July 1, 2005