The talented and animated cast includes Drae Campbell, Aron Canter, Emily Davis, Cecilia Gentili, Gabriella Rhodeen, T. Thompson, and Monica Wyche, all of whom give detailed and entertaining characterizations. Two of the ensemble makes a great impression.
Madcap Emily Davis is sleek, wiry and delightfully expressive as one of the show’s major characters, a witty lovelorn woman. Ms. Davis’ charismatic presence and tremendous comic timing are a joy to experience. Flouncing around in a long coat, she has the bearing of a Noel Coward heroine.
The mature and voluptuous Cecilia Gentili brings great dignity, warmth and humor to the role of a feisty nurse. Ms. Gentili’s captivating persona is comparable to that of the late, great character actress Lupe Ontiveros.
Gentili and Davis riotously appear together in a confrontational scene that’s similar in style to one of Tennessee Williams’ outlandish later works written during his 1960’s drug fueled “Stoned Age.” It culminates in an outrageous catfight right out of the campy 1960’s Batman television series.
Bernard Herrmann-style music accompanied by shadowy film noir imagery is the promising, brief opening sequence. Then a young man who is a performance artist appears on the minimal set of a desk composed of wooden blocks and a wheelie chair. He lectures that it’s today’s date and we’re at the address of the theater, Dixon Place, and invokes George Bailey. Then he addresses an audience member who’s actually an actress in the show about the classic film that character appears in, It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s clear that we’re in for labored Downtown performance art shenanigans.
The next scene has the young man as a professor (“Fletcher Kitane”) conversing with his teaching assistant. Then we’re at a barbershop where a romantic couple is bickering. One is “Barry,” a butch lesbian, and the other is a conventional woman; a dead goldfish in a bag of water prominently figures in the conflict. At a park, a Hispanic female nurse and a Caucasian young man tangle and the grass talks. The professor returns and reads an umemorable stream of consciousness story that’s acted out. There are more scenes with these now familiar characters reappearing.
Much of author Barbagallo’s writing style is primarily bursts of prolixity reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. The jazz music that punctuates the scene changes further add a Beat feel to the presentation. With references to veganism, quinoa, NPR, PBS, and present day New York City real estate prices there’s a decidedly contemporary tone.
Mr. Barbagallo has a facility for comedy with a preponderance of one-liners and classic set-up punch line bits, a number of which may not land but do create the semblance of humor. He admirably demonstrates a palpable affection for his absurd and well-delineated characters. By the end, there is a convoluted and vague sense of resolution.
As the director, Barbagallo’s staging has a very fine visual flair with actors appearing all over the space and brisk pacing. His set design in collaboration with Tina Slatter and Enver Chakartash is a clever assemblage of blocks and simple furnishings that are swiftly rearranged scene by scene. Their costume design is an arresting array of colorful simple garments and flamboyant outfits.
Chris Giarmo’s sound design and Elliott Jenetopulos’ lighting design are proficient, aiding in the show’s accomplished theatricality.
Good natured and fitfully entertaining, My Old Man (And Other Stories) is overall an engaging work of alternative theater.
My Old Man (And Other Stories) (Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, through October 22, 2016)
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.dixonplace.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission