Rise like a Penis from the Flames - a Phallic Phoenix Story
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 15, 2007
I've been telling lots of people that the show I was most looking forward to in this year's festival is Antonio Sacre's Rise Like a Penis from the Flames; I imagine that lots of other folks who became fans of this dynamic and soulful performer during his appearances in the first six FringeNYCs would likely feel the same way. Sacre has been absent from the Fringe since 2002 and he's been sorely missed. His new show reminds us why.
Rise Like a Penis... (whose title harkens back to Sacre's 1999 entry, My Penis: In and Out of Trouble) covers an immense amount of ground in just over 60 minutes. The main throughline is a love story: Sacre tells us right at the outset that he found his soulmate, and the journey he takes us on here tracks the blissful experiences of hooking up with this woman who quickly became his wife, and the painful and sorrowful road to separation and divorce. Along the way, there are lots of wondrous detours: an extraordinary account of therapy with a "master healer" that was apparently part yoga and part strong hallucinogens; a cross-country trip with his soon-to-be wife to meet both sets of in-laws, including his Cuban American father in Delaware, her fundamentalist Christian mother in Tennessee, his Irish American mother (didn't catch where she lives), and her father and too-tall brothers in Texas; and a decadent evening at a Hollywood party in a mansion that Sacre describes with just one word ("waterfall") where Japanese girls feed sushi to guests by placing it directly on their tongues.
Anchoring the show is the Russian fairy tale of the Firebird, which in Sacre's version foretells trouble and opportunity; the challenge is figuring out how to distinguish between the two. As currently edited, the long monologue that is Rise Like a Penis... doesn't quite pull itself together as neatly as it might toward the folk tale's moral, but Sacre is certainly going to work that out as the piece develops.
The center of the show, theatrically and thematically, is the story of Sacre's work as drama instructor at an inner-city-Los Angeles high school. While his wife's career was skyrocketing in TV and film, Sacre essentially gave up his Fringe gigs to work where she was, taking over a job that once was hers but which obviously came to mean a great deal to him. Some of the details that Sacre presents in this section of the show are hilarious (as when his leading man forgets his lines in the Greek tragedy they're putting on and ad libs "Yo, Antigone"). But what this experience taught Sacre—and teaches us—about what's actually valuable and important in life is moving and affirming.
Rise Like a Penis... feels like a work-in-progress, but it's rich in wisdom, heart, warmth, and humor. Sacre's performance style remains unparalleled: he's the quintessential storyteller-as-performance-artist (or is it the other way around?), disarming his audience with a mixture of intimate confession and utterly affectless entertainment. It's a privilege to have him back at FringeNYC, where he belongs; hopefully we won't have to wait five more years for the next show.