By Eric J. Grimm

Sara Fellini and her company, spit&vigor, put on the most daring work I have seen in New York theater. Her plays are substantial and often monumental in scope as she works through the ecstasy and torture of being an artist and a woman. I find myself a huge fan with a bit of a tortured relationship with Fellini. Her play The Execution of Mrs. Cotton was an exhilarating mess that made me desperate to see her self-edit and pull back ever so slightly to highlight the brilliant flourishes in her writing that can get lost among her more maniacal set pieces. Her new solo plays, NEC SPE and NEC METU, directed by Emma Rose Went, are exactly the follow-up I craved after the explosive Mrs. Cotton. No less textured than her previous work but certainly more centered, these works show Fellini’s continued growth as a dynamic theatrical interpreter of history.

NEC SPE traces the turbulent life of Baroque painter Caravaggio as he expresses his inner fury and support for the downtrodden with celebrated works and self-inflicted wounds that prove prematurely fatal. spit&vigor’s powerhouse executive producer, Adam Belvo, always has a well-executed intensity that never feels overbearing; he sometimes risks being shouty but that’s a part of the thrill of watching him. Fellini has admirably and critically interpreted Caravaggio here as a pitiable genius. It’s the kind of tortured artist that she revels in exploring and she and Belvo prove yet again to be impressively in sync as collaborators.

Not surprisingly, Fellini’s work for herself, NEC METU, is an even meatier affair, indulging her fascination with horror and women whose impacts have been drastically understated. Her biography of post-Caravaggio wunderkind Artemisia Gentileschi is her most balanced effort to date. I could easily see her doing a three-hour, twenty-actor production of this, but by simplifying she draws attention to what an astonishingly fine writer she is. Few playwrights can present themes of betrayal and passion like a feast without ever being obvious. As Artemisia confesses to a priest the agony of a promising life so often undercut by the evils of men, Fellini’s writing grows more rapturous and inventive.

Fellini the performer can be Fellini the writer’s best asset and worst enemy. Her musical voice varies from timid to anguished in often surprising ways and her eyes are dangerous and exciting, especially in an intimate venue. Her gesturing is often too extreme with her arms often threatening to detach from her always energized body. As much as she has resisted overworking her premise in the script, she still has too many props to play with in this production, making it look more busy than it needs to be. In particular, the production boasts a creepy anatomical model-looking puppet that Fellini poses throughout the show, and whose right hand unexpectedly came off during the performance I saw. Fellini handled it beautifully, closing her eyes and smiling in exasperation and saying off the cuff, “Time to go,” before retiring the puppet. Put away all those puppets and relax your hands, Sara. The words are vital enough.

NEC SPE and NEC METU played at the United Solo Fest on October 10th. For more information, visit

Photos: Yvonne Allaway