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|A CurtainUp Review
It begins simply enough with an aging immigrant Jewish couple in lower East Side section of Manhattan. Their apartment is probably only a touch more homey than the nearly barren stage of the Theater for the New City. Esther (Sylvia Gassell) is snipping the ends off beans for Ira's (Joel Friedman) favorite goulash. Only it's not his favorite goulash and his diatribe about how much he hates it alerts us to the fact that we are in a realm that unlike genre Jewish family plays, is going to be more Pinteresque than pictureque.
The interchanges between Esther and Ira quickly intensify the feeling that nothing we see and hear can be taken at face value. Esther and Ira may look and sound like typical immigrants and survivors to be found in a neighborhood like this, but something about them does not jibe with preconceived notions of kitchens filled with the aromas of recipes brought over from the old country along with colorful family lore. It's clear that the audience will have to adjust its first impression of this couple, as will the third character in this story-- a young man named Robert (Ron Bagden) who comes to interview them about their lives and remains to become part of this bizarrely funny/sad mystery. A mystery? indeed it is, especially since Robert, like Esther and Ira, is not exactly the earnest and eager young researcher he at first seems to be.
It would be unfair to discuss the plot any further, or to try to interpret the meaning behind its games and discordant stories. Suffice it to say, that if this drama of physical and emotional dislocation is to be called a comedy, color it black. Also count on reconsidering family histories in this era where accurate first-hand accounts are often irretrievably lost, and we have only other people's recollections in books and movies to rely on..
Director Thomas Caruso has directed Stephen Fifes fascinating and disturbing play so that its comic, tragic and bizarre elements are perfectly attuned. Most importantly, he has assembled an outstanding cast. Sylvia Gassell or Joel Friedman are just right as Esther and Ira. Ron Bagden who gave a trenchant performance in My Night With Reg reprises his ability to project a combination of charm and vulnerability, this time adding a sharp edge in the second act
. If you're looking for one of those sentimental, wisecrack-filled Jewish family comedies, stay away from Mickey's Home. If you're looking for theater that will leave you thinking about the complexities seeded by the experiences of Jews in this century, make sure to catch it before its short run ends. I was pleased to note that the house at the performance I attended was packed and that the audience was made up largely of young people and just a sprinkling of senior citizens. It should be noted that the playwright has dedicated this play to the residents of the Bialystoker Home for the Aged on the lower East side with whom he worked some years ago as a writer-in-residence. Also, att $10 a ticket, this is one of the most economical strong theater experiences to be had.