The solution to life's problems, in these plays, is the Equity showcase code. When their protagonist (and author stand-in?), Tony Casala (played in Cravings as a sympathetic ingenue by Russ Caputo and in My Heinous Life as a campy theatrical sophisticate by Brett Noorigian), reaches a dead end in life, his friends or relatives kick in some cash to put on a show, in the spirit of a Judy Garland movie. Stage it and they will come.
It would be tempting to say something snide about D'Agostino's premise, but his obvious seriousness (and lack of resources) takes the fun out of so easy a target. Furthermore, My Heinous Life shows serious potential as an Off-Off-Broadway gay farce in the manner of Transsexuals on the Run.
Cravings shows Tony grow up under the thumb of an abusive father (played as the ultimate bad guy by Ed Pigut) and begin to find his way as a dancer in New York. His mother (Joan St. Claire also played Aunt Rosa, the family gossip, and a college bureaucrat) is a nonentity; only his grandmother (touchingly played by Sally Bassoff) and college girlfriend Karen (sensitively played by Lori Anne Foster) understand him. And Karen less than she thinks--they date for four years before he tells her he's gay.
With their help and support, and the love of another young man (Michael Belliveau), he discovers his potential as a writer-producer, God help him. End of Part One.
My Heinous Life picks up 10 years later -- Tony is nearing opening night as author/composer of yet another Broadway hit musical. He has Woman Trouble. It seems that he has gone back in the closet, for professional reasons, and married a woman (Joan St. Claire, who also does amusing turns as Dorothy Parker and Cleopatra and plays Tony's sister, Adelle). His wife conspires with his agent (Patti Anne Lucas, who danced well and showed off a big voice) and (in bed, no less) with his publicist (Lori Anne Foster) to take over his production and leave him penniless in a divorce, neither of which actions he can challenge without coming out of the closet. (A hard-to-take premise today!)
The best thing to do with Part One is to retire it with honor and pursue the commercial possibilities of Part Two. Cravings, serious advocate as it is of treating children with respect, especially those with artistic longings or sexual uncertainties, is just too sweet for its own good. Its only bad guy is a monster who earns instant hate and never develops--he's an evil creature in a carny haunted house who pops out whenever the action slows.
My Heinous Life is a relief because its bad girls are fun. Perhaps in drag they would be a sensation. So, scrap the ``realism'' about relationships and concentrate on the theatrical melodrama. (Tony could then confront his gay leanings only after getting married, and the conflict would be between his world of established success and his feelings for another man. But no sticky love scenes!)
D'Agostino's music leans toward the sugary-tinkly-portentous in its slow moments and the Jeopardy theme in its fast moments. His lyrics tend toward extreme simplicity and plainness. (Overheard at intermission: ``Well, The Fantasticks doesn't have very good music.'') Is D'Agostino, despite his 14 years' study of music and composition, big enough to consider a collaborator to beef up the music and lyrics? A tough call for a would-be triple threat.
(Also featuring Larry Drabeck, Eileen Marie Toth, and Mat Weisfeld.)Box Score:
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