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Review: The Dog’s Nice. The Cat Brags About Defecating on a Bed.


Debargo Sanyal, left, as a cat, and Curran Connor as a dog in Leah Nanako Winkler’s “Linus and Murray,” at Ensemble Studio Theater.

Gerry Goodstein

Two sisters bake a tuna casserole to honor a friend in Series B of the latest Ensemble Studio Theater one-act play marathons, now in their impressive 36th year. Then a couple have a talk that could end in love or loss. A dog and a cat bond, despite innate differences. Walt Disney has a wartime meeting with a Japanese artist and just doesn’t get it. An ex-con can’t sleep.

The best of this bunch? Leah Nanako Winkler’s “Linus and Murray,” in which Murray (Curran Connor), a shaggy canine rescue, and Linus (Debargo Sanyal), a slinky feline egotist, discuss their opposing worldviews in adjoining backyards. Murray admits that he’s “pretty excited to not be killed” and struggles never to disappoint his owner. Linus brags about defecating on his owner’s bed, insisting that humans are “lucky to have us.” RJ Tolan directed these two perfectly cast actors with exquisite feeling and high-precision humor. The ending is devastating.


From left, Emily Jackson and Patricia Randell in “Down Cleghorn.”

Gerry Goodstein

The animal play comes right after “Falling Away,” Christopher Shinn’s raw, romantic tête-à-tête, directed by Mark Armstrong. Tom (Charles Socarides) makes the best observations, like his expression of concern about “the gulf between the narcissists and everyone else.” But Anna (Sara Bues) gets the line that matters. If it’s been a while since you played out the drama of emotional commitment, acceptance and rejection, this exchange will make you remember.

Jeff Biehl and Tiffany Villarin are both excellent in “Disney & Fujikawa,” Lloyd Suh’s tale of a wartime meeting between Walt Disney and the Japanese-American illustrator Gyo Fujikawa, who actually did artwork for the company. (Linsay Firman directed.) He doesn’t want to discuss the deer anatomy in “Bambi.” She doesn’t want to elaborate on her parents’ life in Arkansas, in an internment camp. The purest line is hers: “I know you’re not racist, except of course you are.”

Christina Gorman’s touching “On the Outs” stars Joe Holt as Jonas, recently released from prison and up in the middle of the night, staring into the refrigerator. He blames spicy food for his insomnia (“Rice-A-Roni ain’t spicy,” his ex-wife, played by Lynnette R. Freeman, observes), but it’s really because “nothing’s familiar” anymore. The resolution — the one way he can finally sleep — is a metaphor for all kinds of fears and freedoms. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn (“Proof”) directed.

“Down Cleghorn,” by Julia Specht, is an encounter between two adult sisters (Emily Jackson and Lauren Hines), baking a casserole in honor of a deceased friend, and their mother (Patricia Randell). The drama, directed by Ralph Peña, feels a bit unfinished and seems mostly a condemnation of the mother’s sexual activity. She does seem to have had a lot of creepy boyfriends; no wonder the girls used to visit their adult friend, a funeral home employee, so much, to escape all those closed-bedroom-door visits.

Yes, one sister admits, as children, they did play in the coffins, “but only the floor models.”

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