Let's play doctor

By Mario Fratti
Directed by Michael Hillyer
Theatre for the New City
155 1st Ave. (254-1109)
Equity showcase (closes Sept. 21)
Review by John Chatterton

There is much for the theatre connoisseur to chew on in Mario Fratti's new play Sister, not the least the care with which the author plants clues that make the ending a satisfying, rather than merely suerprising, denouement. But both play and production suggested avenues for further development.

The story concerns a family of three: a mother about 60 (Margherita), a daughter of 40 (Rosanna), and a son about 20 (Carlo). There is much love in the family -- but, as the son points out, families tend not to communicate about real issues. It is so in this family -- only the ending reveals the cause of the sister's ambiguous feelings for her father (who deserted the family many years ago) and the surprising lineage of the son.

The first scene -- there are two scenes in what amounts to a long one-act, with intermission -- sees the daughter off on a date, leaving the mother and son alone. The mother grills her son on his relationships with women, suggesting that he didn't give them a chance. While the dialogue tends to the circular, as she keeps coming back to the same question, she does so from many different angles. There is much in this sometimes meandering scene that is interesting and even charming in its contrast of ``old-fashioned'' with ``liberated'' ways of thought.

Scene one ends with word that the daughter has had a ``car accident'' and is in the hospital. It develops in scene two that she wasn't out with a girlfriend, as she told Carlo, but with a boyfriend, who beat her severely. (Carlo's jealousy of Rosanna's men is a key element in the play.) The second scene is devoted to her dialog with Carlo and the delivery of a floral tribute; the accompanying note transforms the family by revealing all.

What makes the play a one-act, instead of a two-act, is not its length but its lack of a contrasting story or conflict. It is a three-handed psychoanalysis with little tension. Perhaps Fratti needs to revisit it with an eye to compression (especially in the first scene), thereby making it a gripping one-act of psychological realism; or expansion, into a full-length family drama. How a playwright solves his dramaturgical problems is up to him; but there seems to be a need here for some kind of surgery.

This production would have also been more satisfying if the director had incorporated more of the ending as subtext in the beginning.

The performances by Annette Hunt as Margherita and Wayne Maugans as Carlo were stunning. It is a privilege to watch actors of this quality work Off-Off-Broadway. While Julia Levo certainly did a competent job as Rosanna, her colleagues showed how important listening -- and reacting -- is to a performance, especially in a play as intimate as this.

Jason Sturm's design of matched bamboo furniture and supple (if not subtle) lighting supported the play's intimacy. Gerard Drazba's sound design (operatic music) was overwhelmed by that from New York's streets.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1