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A CurtainUp Review
Macs: A Macaroni Requiem

By Barbara K. Mehlman

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

So said Tolstoi, and Tony and Rosie's family is, indeed, an unhappy family, though you might not guess it as they prepare to sit down to their dinner. But there are clues that something's not right: a table set for eight though only seven people sit down; misplaced humor and forced laughter; awkward conversations, the kind people make when they really want to talk about something else.

The scene opens with Dominc, the middle son, painting at the large dining room table, while his sister Bernie nags him to put away his art supplies and set the table. She's nervous because, Mikey, her boyfriend, is coming over later to ask her father for permission to marry her. Dominic, however, is absorbed in painting a portrait of his younger brother Leo, though he's frustrated at his inability to get it right.

In the living room, Tony, Dominic's father, and Nornie, Tony's father-in-law, are playing armchair quarterback, watching a much-watched tape of Leo's last football game. Tony is a man on the edge, who appears to be perfectly normal, but who seems a bit obsessed with Leo. We think nothing of it, but this repetitive activity of Tony's worries the family.

Rosie, Tony's wife, and her 71-year-old mother Tillie, are in the kitchen cooking. Tillie's chopping garlic and yelling at the bathroom door for Tonse, the eldest son, to get off the "throne" because dinner's about to be served. Tonse finally comes out, and we meet a haggard-looking young man who knows no joy. He silently joins his loud, boisterous, family as together they embark on a momentous meal that changes their lives forever.

Food is the center of this earthy family's life, and they eat with gusto. Everybody talks constantly, interrupting each other, yelling to one another pass the cheese, where's the bread, the sauce is great. To most observers it's happy chaos. But there is an insistent presence of something terrible in this house, a ghost of a tragedy which only Dominic is willing to expose.

Using a favorite game of Bernie's to excruciatingly painful effect, Dominic, reluctantly joined by the rest of the family. When he forces the issue Tony proves to be no match for the family's combined power. The revelatory scene in which Tony faces the family tragedy, is emotionally violent. And you, the audience are right there, witness to what could be yet another tragedy, or the beginning of new life.

Never in all my years of theatregoing have I been so involved in onstage pain that, even as I write this, I cry. Writer David Simpatico has an unerring ear for dialogue, and the sounds, cadences and expressions of a working-class Italian family. Skillfully directed by Mark Roberts, the ensemble cast have created a real home and a real family on stage.

Macs is playing in one of two theaters of The Blue Heron Arts Center which is still so new that the unfinished fa‡ade is covered in protective blue plastic sheeting and the inside still smells of fresh paint. The comfortable theatre in which Macs is performeed has a floor-level stage and steeply raked seats. Sight lines are excellent and the feeling is intimate. The bathroom is clean and it looks like a promising new venue.

By David Simpatico
Directed by Mark Roberts
With: Antoinette LaVecchia as Bernie; Gary Wolf as Dominic; David Brummel as Tony; Roger Serbagi as Nornie; Charlotte Colavin as Rosie; Mary Fogarty as Tillie; Marc Romeo as Tonse; Scott Lucy as Mikey
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Costume Design: Jen McGlashan
A production of Urban Stages at the Blue Heron Arts Center, 121 W. 24th St., betw. Park and Lexington Avens.
Performance Dates: Wednesday to Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM; opened on March 17, 1999; closing 4/03/99
Seen 3/20/99 and reviewed by Barbara K. Mehlman

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© Elyse Sommer, March 1999