By Melvyn Kohn
October 13, 2010
A few weeks back in Gotham I spent time going to friends' plays and rehearsals. A Harold Pinter play called "A Slight Ache" is in workshop with Const Schultz, Ron Leir and Mike Stranger. An open rehearsal of it was being performed at the Muhlenberg Library on West 23rd Street. This is a new concept, whereby actors get to do not-quite-ready-for-prime-time run throughs, and the public gets to watch and comment at the end. A great idea, but one which is under threat, not just per se, but from the axe as Mayor Bloomberg may close 10 libraries and put hundreds out of work; a concept much against my ideology, as I can recall the Lindsay days when that mayor even had chamber music in the libraries. Now we stand to lose a great resource, and in a time of great need - many here have nothing else. Homelessness is up 34% this year.
And with such losses, we would lose the chance to see great works in progress, and actors would have to choose between paying rent or paying for rehearsal space - in a town where tourism, of which the arts are so much a part, is the number one industry. Everyone loses if we close the libraries or do not allow them to be used intelligently. Most have unused rooms on top floors, which ought to be put employed for the common good.
But so much for my soapbox, I would rather speak of the fun I had seeing the performances. In the Pinter play, which opens with an English couple in looking at their garden, there are slight tensions, noted in the deliberate artificiality of the overtly genteel conversations between man and wife, played by Lear and Schultz. But added to this is that created by the lone figure of a matchseller, played to eerie effect by actor Mike Stranger, who, given such a stage name, one might suspect likes these roles. He does. And he does a great job at what he likes to do.
His speechless role is played in a way Hitchcock might have loved to have directed.
Stranger gives us more of himself in two other plays, both of which debuted at the Producers Club on 44th Street on Friday, 18 June, and ran the next day. The twain played with a third; all were written by women: Diana Risetto's "Frankly Yours", about the songs of one Francis Albert from New Jersey; Laura Holland's "Myron and Shirley", a quasi-autobiographical piece about a Jewish couple from New Jersey, and; Nancy Cucinotti's "The Night Shines so Bright", a farcical work about soap operas.
The lives of Italians and Jews, juxtaposed in the theatre, mirrors the facts of the city; art reflecting life in New York.
The play about Frank Sinatra, or rather his fans, is upbeat and comical, with Ron Leir, Colleen Haydn. Doris Martir and Christina Sheehan.
"Myron and Shirley" has a hard hitting realism to it, with the playwright playing the lead along with her real life partner, Arnie Gittell. Mike Stranger also makes an appearance or two, as an upstaged waiter deprived of his tip by Gittell and later, as the anorexic son of Holland.
Cucinotti's play revolves around the character of a middle aged woman, played by Ann Bam Gieson, whose talents shine brightly. Ron Leir, as her husband, Johnny Dee Damato as her father, Doris Martir as her mother and Mike Stranger as her long lost son make this one soap worth watching. Stranger, in this last role, plays a much more mainstream character, putting on a uniform to be a soldier just back from the Gulf War with a family in tow.
The tilogoy was directed by Sheryl Ortigozo, who also played in "The Night Shines so Bright."
In September I had the privilege to see a number of these actors hanging out at Madame X on West Houston Street, where Mike Stranger did a piece from "Phantom of the Opera."
Hopefully all three of the new plays will find other venues - the Producers' Club has a very nice lounge, but what with the lights that fail and the handles that fall off doors, it can be hard on the actors, who deserve better stages - it will most likely not return to its origianal venue. One likely place for their next appearances is Bolivia, where the government is working on creating an English language theatre community, part of a tourism initiative - where it would be nice for actors to concentrate on their craft. New York is full of really talented people whose careers are stuck in traffic. Some of them are considering taking the A train not to 42nd Street but to Santa Cruz, where they can spend months just working on plays.