nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
July 22, 2006
Vincent Caruso’s play Countdown seems to be straddling two universes. (Well, three, if you count Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where the high-revved, dysfunctional antics of this contemporary story take place.) One of the universes contains caricatures that perform and interact with one another in superficial, sketch comedy-like rhythms. The other, more evolved parallel universe contains the same cast of characters, but here they are fully-realized, three dimensional people who you can care about.
Countdown begins in a hospital hallway where we meet the main character, Nicky (John Leone), berating the hospital staff to take better care of his dying mother. It's clear from the get-go that Nicky is the kind of bombastic, egocentric guy who seems to like to hear himself yell no matter what the circumstances. Rosie (Jordana Oberman), Nicky's petulant wife, soon informs Nicky that his mother has, in fact, just died. It is this event that starts the clock ticking, setting off an avalanche of discoveries and accusations in the scenes that follow, resolving at an awkward and hilarious Christmas Eve gathering.
The landslide begins when Nicky's misguided father, Pop (Peter J. Coriaty), while pining for his dead wife, also tries to jump Rosie's bones. This unsettling incident, along with Rosie's suspicion of Nicky's infidelities, drives Rosie back to drinking. At the same time, Nicky is indeed cheating on Rosie with Sandy (Allison Lane), the neighborhood vixen, who he meets up with for a tryst only six hours after his mother's death. While Nicky is M.I.A., Rosie introduces Pop to recent widow and potential love interest, Toni (Angela Della Ventura), in order to get Nicky riled up and Pop off her back—literally.
Countdown works best when grounded in the three-dimensional universe. Lane and Della Ventura succeed the most in sustaining captivating and believable performances throughout the play and achieve the right humorous pitch. Lane lights up her limited time on stage with a smart and spirited flair, and Della Ventura is particularly delightful, evoking belly laughs at Toni's delicious quirks one moment, while tugging at our heartstrings the next. Other highlights include scenes when the writing and directing allow the characters to just interact with one another simply and honestly, bringing out the authenticity of both the drama and humor. In an engaging scene between Nicky and Pop early in the play, we immediately understand through their behavior that theirs is a very complex relationship weighed down by years of hurt and regret. Nicky's younger, better-loved brother, Enzo drowned mysteriously only six years before, which has thrown a wrench into the relationship. The dynamics between Nicky and Pop are the most compelling in the play, and are probably worth further exploration.
Lighthearted Italian and American standards add a nice facetious counterpoint during the scene transitions, which could benefit from smoother set-cube arranging. In the attempt to create mood and place, the lighting gets a bit in the way of scene flow at times, but otherwise does the job. Ultimately, directing less attention toward the easy kind of hammy humor that is fine for short skits in favor of mining the richer potential could make Countdown a much more satisfying universe to visit.