By Joe Pintauro
Barefoot Theatre Company
303 West 42nd Street (212/802-8305)
Closes May 2
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut
Ten of playwright Joe Pintauro's 27 short plays were presented during the Barefoot Theatre Company's festival of his works. Thematically these plays range from sublime confrontations between men and God to hilarious send-ups of politics and ethics. Birds figure prominently as symbols, and language and action often took flight in the intense performances of the 11-member ensemble. This performance was well directed by Michael LoPorto, Lisa Melita French, Victoria Malvagno, and Francisco Solorzano, who orchestrated a varied presentation so that Pintauro's vision was explored freshly in each play.
Like a three-act opera, the production moved thematically from the sacred to the secular and then to a contrapuntal synthesis of these themes. The "overture" mimicked an aria composed of significant lines from Pintauro's plays. The performance then modulated to Charlie's Farewell, a distracted man's eulogy. Continuing the ecclesiastical theme, two men confronted the question of encouraging the idea of Birds in Church. Following that gesture of compassion, Jim and Maisie discovered the ironic Rules of Love during an act of confession.
A new theme is advanced in the play Rex, during which two vegans debate what to do with an accidental road-kill pheasant. This bird gave way to another as Soft Dude elaborates a cagey argument about the meaning of desire, as negotiated through the stories of the sexually abused Doll and Dude -- the peak performances of that excellent production were delivered by Victoria Malvagno and Francisco Solorzano, respectively. Confrontation with the past continues in the following play, Dirty Talk, an erotic revenge played out with incredible energy and timing between Ellie (Kendra Leigh Landon) and Wendell (Gilberto Ron) -- another particularly strong performance. Feathers fly once more in the well-populated Butterball, an amusing send-up of life after the dictator Pinochet, in which it was better to be "a dead turkey than a living woman." Matilde (AnaMaria Correa), the widow of poet Pablo Neruda, answers the implicit question about how to sleep in the beds we've made with an elegiac remembrance of her deceased husband, which makes up the play House Made of Air. Sound effects (John Beverly) were poignant and well-coordinated in that play, a beautiful lyric, which climaxed with a vision of Neruda. The unsettling opening of the next play, Fiat -- at first, apparently, a hairdresser's worst nightmare -- presented birds and women in unexpected ways, as a Jewish AIDS patient named Kenneth (Jeremy Brena) confronts an unexpected Madonna (Kendra Leigh Landon), in strong and affecting performances. Fiat requires no less than a fusion of the sublime and the ridiculous; the actors delivered. At last, in the concluding Parakeet Eulogy, Robbie (Gabriel Buentello) discovers the true meaning of birds in church, which brought all of the themes to fruition. The performance concluded with a coda --actually, a repetition of its aria-like opening, which brought the larger opera full circle and gave the performance closure. The strong ensemble also featured Jay Rivera, Jeremy Brena, Gabriel Buentello, Francisco Solorzano, Gilberto Ron, Dedra McCord-Ware, Keri Meoni, and Chiara Montalto, in a variety of roles.
John Beverly, who designed the set, lighting, and sound, made excellent use of the various quirks of the Pantheon Theatre, at times enclosing the audience in a velvet drape to highlight a sepulchral moment and heighten suspense, at other times, unwrapping curtains to expose dramatic tension. The furniture and props were evocative of locations as varied as churches, bars, a dinner table, and heaven. Costumes, designed by Aldinna Malvagno and Victoria Malvagno, dramatized winged visions and gritty realities equally well.
Pintauro's shorter plays, sometimes sketch-like, and occasionally in need of tightening, offer intriguing meditations on religion, sex, and power through the examination of "fouled" and -- forgive them -- "fowled" lives. The different pieces were suitably arranged to pursue various themes and counter-themes as operas often do, but occasionally "less" might have been more in the selection of the plays for the two-hour performance.
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Copyright 2004 Deborah S. Greenhut