A pleasant musical theater work about a romantically insecure women and her poor life choices.
By Joel Benjamin
With nearly 200 events squeezed into two weeks, the New York International Fringe Festival is an epic buffet of theater and music where one never knows what brilliantly tasty entree—or spectacularly deflated soufflé—will be served. Over the years, many successful shows have sprung from these frenetic weeks of creativity.
To squeeze the last drop from an already over-used food metaphor, The Crack in the Ceiling, the new musical by James Harvey is a side dish—tasty, but not very nutritious or adventurous.
Mr. Harvey spins the titular defect into a symbol of single mom, Ellen’s (Kristy Cates) aching need to be loved by a man, any man, it seems, despite having a decent life and a delightful son, David (Nicky Torchia) whom she inadvertently shoves into the background. David Goldstein’s lighting indicates a jagged white line down the center of the kitchen set, mimicking one in the ceiling.
She owns her house—designed sparingly but wittily by Mr. Goldstein—and appears to make a nice living. Her son is a bright, far too understanding 11-year old. The fly in the ointment is that she keeps falling for terrible men, all played by the extraordinary Josh Grisetti, most recently of It Shoulda Been You.
Ellen isn’t an innocent victim. No, she actively, even ludicrously flirts with the succession of men she calls in to repair that terrible crack in her ceiling: a loutish young plumber who takes advantage of Ellen; a pizza delivery guy; an old coot plumber; a self-styled anti-mold hygienist (complete with space-age gear); a new-age guru who tries to chant the crack away; and an ersatz French plumber who brings wine and a sexual appetite, charging her for taking advantage of both.
Just when she comes to the realization that her over-reaction to the flaws in her ceiling and plumbing has damaged not only herself but her faithful and bright son, the house makes it clear that it’s just that—a building that’s falling apart and not her life.
The songs emerge directly from the dialogue. “Some Grownups,” sung by mother and son is a clever look at adulthood, while “Back On My Own Again” is Ellen’s combination of lament and expression of inner strength. “Take Me” reveals Ellen’s overactive id while “You’ll Understand” is Ellen’s attempt to explain to David what he has to expect as an adult.
Ms. Cates is a fine comic actress with a strong voice. She finds whatever nuance she can in the sometimes cartoony libretto. Young Nicky Torchia is a self-possessed young actor who exudes a confidence without cuteness.
The Crack In the Ceiling isn’t deep and doesn’t shed any real light on male-female relationships or, for that matter, mother-son relationships. It is a pleasant way to spend 80 minutes, but needs some rethinking to give it more heft and psychological insight.
The Crack in the Ceiling – August 15, 18, 22, 25 & 28, 2015
Lynn Redgrave Theater @ Culture Project (Venue #13)
45 Bleecker Street (between Lafayette St. & the Bowery) NYC
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission