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A CurtainUp Review
At the top of the play it's 3 PM on 9/11. Giuseppe, an Italian Jewish shoemaker (Danny Aiello), sits alone in his shop in Hell's Kitchen. He is cradling a pair of black satin pumps. He has created this safe haven for himself after his father sent him to America as a child in 1939. Opera is his escape and on the radio is a recording of "Che Gelida Manina." He feels secure here. In bad times, when his wife died and when he had arguments with his daughter, he'd always shut himself inside his shop. Now, on 9/11, he put up the "Closed For The Day" sign, again secluding himself.
His solitude is disrupted by Hilary (Alma Cuervo), distraught and tired. "My sole is broken," she cries, demanding he repair her shoe on the spot. Giuseppe angrily tells her the shop is closed but finally he agrees to help. As he works, they talk about their lives. The shoes are important to him. He points out a pair he keeps protected in a red zippered bag. The shoes were given to him by his father before sending him to America. Another old, worn pair belongs to a customer who boasted that her sons work in the Twin Towers. A pair of black satin heels belong to Louise, a tiny young woman, who works downtown and reminds him of his own daughter who is studying in Paris. He had suggested cutting down the high heels to this woman he calls "Little Louise" but she refused, explaining, "the height makes me feel like I'm someone."
Hilary is a film instructor, and when they discuss The Garden of the Finzi Continis, Giuseppe relates to the ending where an old woman could not accept what was happening in her country until it was too late. He remembers his father telling him leave Italy now with his mother and that they would all meet later. But his father and grandmother never came. Ironically, while Giuseppe left his home to be safe in America, his own daughter left America and is safe in Paris.
Little Louise, the third character does not appear until the second act which flashes back to 8 AM that day, shortly before the attack. She comes to the shop to talk, telling the shoemaker how her father encouraged her to jump from the diving board but she never would. She talks about the sense of smell being a potent memory, especially the smell of toasting marshmallows. Meanwhile, the voices in Giuseppe's mind grow more insistent, confusing past, present and even the future. As Louise leaves to go to work, Giuseppe is overwhelmed with memories of threatening Nazi sounds in the Roman streets intermingling with the voice of his father urging him to open the door and go into the world.
Symbols are ever-present, reminders of the terrible event but they don't evoke emotion. Two shoes— two towers. Hilary's sole, or is it her soul? Height? The high office windows where Hilary tells him she saw people jumping from the flames. On the wall is a photograph of Holocaust victims' confiscated shoes. Below are shoes belonging to 9/11 victims who will never come for them. From a radio we hear flashbacks of pre-WWI broadcasts along with today's breaking news.
The conversation and characters are eerily mundane, poignant but not really theatrical. Danny Aiello is convincing as Giuseppe, his soft voice heavy with haunting memories and personal insecurities. The women are not fleshed out but Alma Cuervo's Hilary is persuasively frenetic in recounting the earlier events. Lucy DeVito portrays a sweet and caring young Louise, the girl Giuseppe cannot stop from walking into the oncoming catastrophe. Offstage, Michael Twaine provides the voices of Giuseppe's father and the Nazis.
You can almost smell the shoe polish in Ray Klausen's set, detailed with the clutter of a small shoemaker's shop, accented with background noises of sirens and traffic by designer Bernie Dove.
Though director Antony Marsellis keeps the conversation moving, The Shoemaker is repetitive and over-written. Consequently, the drama of the 9/11 attack is blunted so that the drama touches the mind but not the heart.
There is a Q&W with Danny Aiello after each performance.
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