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A CurtainUp Review
Ninth and Joanie
By Elyse Sommer
The wordlless post funeral scene that opens this dire drama lasts an interminable 25 minutes. The play closes with yet another endless silence that turns up the lights on the audience before finally throwing the first and and last seen characters, (Rocco and his father Charlie (Bob Glaudini) into darkness. This might be viewed as an interesting directorial gimmick if what happens in between, that opening and closing didn't come at the expense of engaging the audience sufficiently to come away feeling they've experienced an impelling, meaningful drama.
Once the silence is broken, there's not exactly a flood of dialogue but we do learn that Rocco and Charlie's grieving pre-dates and post-dates the funeral of the family matriarch. A daughter (the Joanie of the title is seen only through a picture mounted under a cross on the living room wall) who was killed at age 13 inflamed the father's racism, and serves as a set up for the additional bloody mayhem that prompted my likening this family to a Greek tragedy like the House of Atreus.
David Meyer has created an authentic looking interior of a South Philadelphia living room, with a kitchen that provides at least some visibility thanks to Bradley King's lighting. The actors, especially Kerrigan, do what they can with superficially developed characters. Dominic Fumusa and Rosal Colón are wasted in the roles of Michael and Isabella. Glaudini, the author of some of Labrynth's best plays (A View from 151st Stret, Jack Goes Boating, Dutch Heart of a Man) made me wish that Labrynth had chosen one of his plays. In any case, their best efforts are unlikely to make you care about the characters and a narrative whose thematic purpose seems to be guided by the proverbial "Before you seek revenge dig two graves."
By the time Ninth and Joanie moved from the its overly quiet beginning to the suddenly explosive intermission, it was clear that there was little chance that what will take place in the week later second act, will lighten the heaviness. At least at the performance I attended, this had quite a few people headed for the exit.
Mr. Leonard's two previous outings with Labrynth were staged at the Public Theater's LuEsther Theater, like the company's current home on Bank Street, a small venue. Unfortunately, as was the case with Unconditional, the author has again ignored the fact that on stage smoking is particularly uncomfortable for audiences in a small theater. Herbal cigars may not be carcinogenic but they're just as unfriendly to people with allergies and sensitive lungs. Having just recovered from a bronchial infection, Charlie's smoking clearly fails to enhance an already underwhelming two hours. Instead, hIs sins as a father and a bigot are compounded by his exposing all who entered his depressing home subject to secondary cancer exposure.
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