The 5 Roses of Jennifer
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 11, 2006
At a time when the world seems more divided than ever along religious and cultural lines, it is a great joy to go to the theatre and see a play that touches on aspects of our common humanity, even if, ironically, the aspects are loneliness and alienation. London-based Monkey See Monkey Do Productions, created by Sabina Cangiano and James Callachan, was formed with the mission to present original plays by international playwrights about human rights and our connections to one another. Their production of The 5 Roses Of Jennifer by Annibale Ruccello fulfills that mission in ways that will have you thinking about its themes, characters, and the actors' marvelous work long after you leave the theatre.
Jennifer, an Italian transvestite, lives in an unnamed ghetto, "the transvestite area," as it's called on the constantly playing radio in her little apartment (much credit goes to set designer Maurizio Vaccaro and lighting designer Melanie Lipka for creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia and being cut off from the rest of the world). She is waiting for a man named Frank. She has only met him once, but has built up an entire fantasy life around him. She prepares every day for his arrival and rescue of her to a life of love and happiness. Due to a fault in the phone system, all calls meant for her neighbors are routed to her. Each time the phone rings, she jumps up to answer, thinking it's Frank. Although it is never the one she really wants to speak to, she keeps the person on the phone for as long as possible, even an obscene harasser, because she is so alone.
In between the old Italian and American romantic songs on the radio that she sings and dances to by herself, are reports of a maniac killer who is murdering transvestites in the area. We see her react to this and then quickly change the station to another song. When there is a knock at the door, she is elated, thinking that Frank, her knight, has finally arrived. "I knew it, I knew it!", she says. But it is Anne, another transvestite, her neighbor, who comes to ask if someone has called for her and can she wait with Jennifer until he does.
Their conversation together over coffee is one of the play's highlights. It's a fantasy of role-playing straight out of Genet where they discuss their husbands, children, menstrual difficulties, and glamorous vacations. It is heart-breaking and riveting. This meeting leads to the play's ultimate final tragedy which I don't want to give away by revealing.
Gennaro De Masco, as Jennifer, and Francesco Caiazza, who plays Anne, are both superb. De Masco, in costumes beautifully done by Ilaria Di Fiore, looks like the gorgeous love child of Penelope Cruz and Gael Garcia Bernal. He does not take the easy way out by performing as a stereotypical "drag queen." The empathy we feel for Jennifer comes from his portrayal of her as a human being as capable of self-delusion as the rest of us. Her loneliness is real, the world does not accept her, and her attempts to create her own world through fantasy is relatable. Caiazza, as Anne, is just creepy, there is no other way to put it, but wonderfully so with great comic timing. Sabina Cangiano's direction is taut and suspenseful, creating feelings of fascination and unease as the play progresses to its ultimately disturbing and violent conclusion. This is a show not to be missed.