Review: ‘Park Plays’ Draw Inspiration From the Queens Landscape

Review: ‘Park Plays’ Draw Inspiration From the Queens Landscape
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From left, Monique Robinson, Patrice Bell and Juanita Frederick in “G.O.A.T.” Credit Dominick Totino

She is the greatest of all time, so magnificent that these three devotees need not even utter her name as they gather to burn sage in her honor. Serena Williams is their own personal deity, and in Ngozi Anyanwu’s snappy and hilarious “G.O.A.T.,” they are praying to the goddess Nike and the ghost of Arthur Ashe for Ms. Williams to win a Grand Slam.

Helping her to victory is such a delicate task that Bonita (a glamorously funny Monique Robinson), the autocratic leader of this little group, fears that they could jinx her United States Open match just by tuning in.

“Are you kidding, we got that black girl magic,” her friend Roberta (Juanita Frederick) says.

Well, they’re definitely working some kind of charm in Queens Theater’s “Park Plays,” a program of 10 short one-acts set in and around the teeming world of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Directed by Mary E. Hodges, “G.O.A.T.” comes third in the lineup, bringing a shimmering vitality and sharp discipline that have been missing until then.

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Precious Sipin in Don Nguyen’s “Race Day.” Credit Dominick Totino

Presented in association with Theater 167, the program offers some interesting playwrights, including MJ Kaufman, whose ambitious “Ruthie at the Fair,” set at the 1939 World’s Fair, doesn’t get the atmospheric production it demands. Jess Barbagallo contributes “Care,” an emotionally inward-looking park bench play, and Lauren Yee ventures into Robert Moses territory with “What We Once Were.” Set in the Queens Museum’s Panorama of the City of New York, it’s nicely acted, particularly by Bartley Booz as a baffled new hire. But it’s a slightly muddled piece that would benefit from more complex stage design.

The park’s sprawling acreage includes the museum; Arthur Ashe Stadium, site of the Open; the theater itself, a Philip Johnson building huddled snugly beneath his concrete observation towers for the 1964 World’s Fair; and Meadow Lake, site of the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. That’s the setting for Don Nguyen’s terrific mini-comedy “Race Day,” in which Maddie (a delightfully acerbic Dominique Brillon) and Leah (Jo Mei) come to watch their younger sister, Kara, lead her perennially disastrous team to, surely, yet another humiliation.

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