Men Without Myth
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 6, 2010
The three short plays that comprise Men Without Myth have a few things in common. They're all written by Italian American men. They're all directed by their playwrights. And they all touch on themes of addiction and familial relationships, in a way that makes the experience of seeing them in sequence feel unified and cohesive.
But each is very different from the others, too; and that coupled with the consistently fine acting and production values makes Men Without Myth very much an evening worth seeing.
The show begins with Charles Messina's Klepto. The place is a motel room in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the program tells us, and the year is 1977. A pair of ladies' stockings is strewn over a screen in one corner; the place is cluttered but not dirty, dominated by a big bed, and I thought when I saw the room that we were in for something sexy. But when the lights come up, a boy of 11 or 12 is playing a sort of solitaire handball by himself, pretending he's a New York Yankee. His name is Chuckie, and eventually his mother enters, loaded down with packages. A lot of emotional territory gets covered quickly: Chuckie's dad, a minor league baseball player, disappeared years ago. Chuckie hopes for a reunion. His mom is bitter. And she might be in some trouble: I don't want to give too much away, but the play's title does offer a bit of a clue to what's going on. Messina treads the fine line between comedy and drama deftly in this piece, with the loving but troubled relationship between mother and son constantly at the forefront. Gina Ferranti brings depth and warmth to the archetypal character she plays, while John Barbieri, a 13-year-old bound for La Guardia High School of Performing Arts this coming fall, is terrifically natural and likable as Chuckie. Lou Martini, Jr., cast somewhat against type as a quintessentially Southern department store employee, is also very effective.
The second piece, Augie's Ring, is written and directed by John Dapolito. It takes place in a dive bar, not unlike the one where The Iceman Cometh unfolds. The bartender is out at the moment; covering for him—and drinking the occasional rum and coke—is Augie, a reputed tough guy who has been sleeping in the cemetery. The only customer is a woman, loud and lewd and as desperate for attention as she is for drink. True connection seems beyond these people, but in this sharp, harsh play, maybe they come as close as they can get to it for just a fleeting instant.The acting—by Robert Nicotra and Caitlin Norton—and the staging are raw, tender, and absolutely fearless.
Nicotra is the author/director of the final item on the bill, Like You. In it, a 34-year-old man visits the father who abandoned his family decades ago for the first time in 17 years. The dad, a longtime alcoholic, had a stroke a few years ago and is now very ill with bladder cancer. The son is trying to hold his own family together as he struggles with his own desires and dreams. The title reveals some of what happens here; the question is, can the father help the son to overcome what might be coded in his DNA? Patrick Terance McGowan and Alfredo Diaz are very affecting and display remarkable chemistry as father and son.
Men Without Myth is an involving cycle of plays, and also a strong showcase of fine writing, acting, and directing. There really are no weak links in the program. I led a talkback with the cast and writer/directors after the performance I attended and was excited (though not at all surprised) by how engaged the audience was—the dramas stimulated a great deal of discussion and debate in the theatre and, I am sure, afterward. Which is the whole point: I am eager to see more work from these artists and from BTC Productions, which makes its debut with this exemplary presentation.