by: Eric J. Grimm
Playing on Air is a public radio broadcast of “great American plays by great American actors” produced by Claudia Catania. The shows are taped in front of an audience at BRIC House in Downtown Brooklyn. The most recent taping on March 24, 2014 featured plays by David Graziano, Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, and David Lindsay-Abaire. All three short plays were well suited to being performed on radio, sporting small casts and descriptive dialogue. The somewhat impromptu format, showcases the strength of the talent involved and even the flaws and are a testament to the excitement of live theater.
The first show, David Graziano’s Acorn, tells a story of young love in Brooklyn. Bags (Bobby Moreno) falls for Catherine (Megan Tusing) when he sees her underwear hanging on a clothesline. The two spend months misinterpreting each other’s positive and negative signals as they experience respective hardships in their home lives. Moreno and Tusing, who previously worked with director John Giampietro in Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Year of the Rooster, manage to have great chemistry even though the story is told in side-by-side monologues. Both sport solid working class Brooklyn accents. Tusing in particular has a low register befitting a hardened New York woman. Moreno’s awkward charm makes Bags a lovable loser. The pre-internet 1990s setting makes the story all the more romantic.
Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ Peep is the most complex and rewarding of the three shows, though this production of it shows the limitations of the impromptu radio broadcast format. Lisa Peterson directs Nilaja Sun and Darren Pettie as a woman and man with a passionate and troubling relationship. The woman, whose daughter is getting her arm reset after an accident, is celebrity obsessed and slightly unstable. The man is a laidback blue-collar worker who doesn’t share his wife’s interests. The play takes an alarming shift when the woman accuses the man of being inappropriate with her daughter and causing the accident. The play’s ambiguous ending lets questions about the characters linger. The tone of the show is both amusing and sinister and this production couldn’t quite capture it. With limited rehearsal time, Sun and Pettie hadn’t quite found the connection between these two mysterious characters, though their vocal delivery was clean and strong.
The grand finale, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Crazy Eights, sported the most pedigree of the evening with cast members Bobby Cannavale, Kevin Hogan, John Leguizamo, and Rosie Perez. The men do fine jobs in broad comedic roles, but the play and the evening belonged to the inimitable Ms. Perez. Not enough can be said in favor of the Academy Award nominated actress who shines here as former convict Connie, who is humiliated by her parole officer. Perez plays it straight and dead on and while the beginning shows that she can make just about any line of dialogue hilarious, the ending is appropriately heartbreaking. There are few other actors who are as preternaturally talented and it is intoxicating to see her live.
Playing on Air is available as a podcast on iTunes. The next episode will be taped at BRIC House on March 31. For tickets, visit http://bricartsmedia.org/events/performing-arts/special-invitation-playing-on-air-2.