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A CurtainUp Review
Where's My Money?
by Les Gutman
---Our Original Review- by Les Gutman
The themes of Where's My Money?, marital confliction and infidelity, and its seeds in emotional inadequacy, are familiar ones for Shanley. They pervade his plays like Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and Italian American Reconciliation (review linked below), as well as his Oscar-winning film Moonstruck. They return now stripped of any residual insulation.
And what better way to wire his story than by coiling it around a pair of divorce lawyers? One might hope that the work of a divorce lawyer would lead to some more refined wisdom on the subject of relationships, but the evidence here doesn't support the notion. One's willingness to dispense advice on such matters -- endemic in the Brooklyn Shanley portrays -- seems inversely proportional to one's need for it.
Where's My Money? opens with the familiar theme song of television's Perry Mason, but from its opening, wordless series of blackout images it's clear Shanley is treading closer to the province of The Twilight Zone. His characters may be terrorized by their marriages and extramarital affairs, but they are haunted by ghosts and hear noises.
Celeste (Yetta Gottesman) and Natalie (Paula Pizzi) used to work together. Catching up at a coffee shop after a couple of years, it's evident they've taken very different paths. Natalie, an accountant, is now straight-laced, married to a young lawyer, Henry (John Ortiz), and living on the Upper West Side; Celeste, who temps, is still living with her deadbeat stoner boyfriend in a studio, although she's been having a affair for six months with a married man, who turns out to be Sidney (David Deblinger), Henry's mentor at his law firm.
Natalie is all business, and not the least bit subtle ("total honesty" is her policy), insisting that Celeste needs to get her act together. But Celeste is grooving on her wild escapades. At home, however, Natalie hasn't quite worked out her "deal" with Henry: stung by a previous marriage, he won't even open a joint checking account. And Hernan (Chris McGarry), her ex-lover, now dead, keeps appearing to her, demanding to know where the $2700 he loaned her for her wedding dress is. Henry, meanwhile, turns to Sidney for counsel, but Sidney turns out to be a man for whom a wife is just someone to lie to. "You don't hold a chain saw by the chain," he tells him. Not surprisingly, when Sidney faces a crisis and heads home, his wife, Marcia Marie (Florencia Lozano), doesn't welcome him with open arms. Why should she? "You destroy marriages for a living," she reminds him. "While you destroy them gratuitously," he responds. Henry returns home to give Natalie some choices and discovers he hates the truth, because "the truth has no heart."
Shanley's thesis may have some holes in it, but it's hard to notice. Under his punchy, aggressively paced direction, sure-footed comedy and keen dialogue, the cast acquits itself with unrelenting accuracy and perfect timing. There is no weak link in this fine ensemble. The contrasts between the passionate but happy-go-lucky Gottesman and the by-the-numbers, career-minded Pizzi in the opening scene are marvelous; Pizzi's demeanor shifts perceptibly in the following scene as she confronts Henry. We've seen both of these actors doing good work before (Gottesman in Unmerciful Good Fortune, Pizzi in Wit), but their performances here exceed out expectations. We've seen the exceptional Ortiz before as well (most notably in last season's Jesus Hopped the A Train and Salvador Dali Makes Me Hot); his performance here, the play's fulcrum, takes him in a different direction, in a portrayal that is tough but exceedingly emotional in range. Deblinger is new to us, but wonderful, especially in his blisteringly funny evocation of Sidney as a full-of-himself Brooklyn Jewish divorce lawyer and husband from hell. Lozano, also new to us, is very much his match, corroborating with cold and wicked humor that Sidney indeed "stole her soul."
Michelle Malavey's set places the action into a heavily skewed perspective, reminding us that what Shanley has on his mind is as much parable as plot, and that one's viewpoint depends largely on where one is standing. Battle on
Italian American Reconciliation
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