nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 2, 2012
Most people reach a point in their lives when all the fundamental assumptions that have underlain everything so far suddenly crumble; what happens next is a matter of faith, will, and destiny. Massive midlife crisis is the subject of Joe Lauinger's marvelous new play Holy Child, which is premiering under the auspices of White Fence Productions, directed by Sue Glausen. This play, which is at once serious and hilarious, absurd and organic—just like real life—depicts, with insight and humanity, that pivotal moment of crash-and-burn in the lives of a group of adult brothers. It's a rich, rewarding theatrical experience, enhanced immeasurably by the performances of an expert, simpatico ensemble.
It begins at an Italian restaurant in the suburbs of NYC (New Jersey, I think); Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" ushers us into the scene, most appropriately. We're at a reunion of the four DiCamillo brothers, men whose lives have led them in different directions; not exactly estranged but certainly not in touch.
The youngest, Bernie, is the first to arrive. He's a lawyer who has recently moved to Manhattan after a period on the West Coast. He's now a public defender, and that career change plus his Jewish wife Marlo are sources of some bewilderment for his brothers.
Vic, the eldest, shows up next. He runs the family business; he's full of bluster and advice as nominal head of the clan. Arriving soon after are Thomas, a priest, and Patsy, a high school sports coach. Before these two appear, Vic updates Bernie on their circumstances: Thomas, an alcoholic who has been stripped of his duties, is being sent by the Church to a glorified santarium called Holy Child; and Patsy has become involved with a student, a teenage girl.
So a whole passel of little crises face the DiCamillos as they prepare to break bread. Much happens during the dinner, or more accurately before it: the food has only just started to arrive as the first act reaches its climax. In Act II, the brothers work toward freeing themselves of their tribulations. To reveal more would be unfair; Lauinger constantly surprises us as he moves his story forward in startling but entirely convincing ways. Since the program reveals that one of the play's characters is the Blessed Virgin Mary, I think it's okay to tell you that various miracles, of various sorts, occur before the play is finished.
Who is the Holy Child of the title? I think valid arguments could be made that both Bernie and Patsy are each protagonists of the play. And I think that you'll find something to identify with in each of the four brothers.
Kudos to the four actors who bring the DiCamillos to life here: Paul Montagna (Vic), John Blaylock (Thomas), Jerry Ferris (Patsy), and Dono Cunningham (Bernie) create detailed, compelling characterizations and exhibit remarkable chemistry, convincing us that they are indeed brothers. In six different female roles, Annie Paul is splendid and demonstrates great versatility (she plays a waitress, a GPS, the aforementioned Virgin Mary, and more).
Kudos, too, to whoever is responsible for the costuming (there's no credit in the program). Polonius's observation about clothes making the man goes a long way here, as we gain deep and immediate information about each of the brothers just by looking at what they have on.
Holy Child delivers what the best theater should—an evening of engaging entertainment loaded with food for thought. I highly recommend it.