Stranger here myself

Cirrius, Nebraska

By Nick Vigorito, Jr.
Directed by Morgan Doninger
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Raw Space Theatre M
529 W. 42nd St. (279-4200/
Equity showcase (closes Aug. 3)
Review by David Mackler

The town of Cirrius, Nebraska is ostensibly located not far outside of Omaha, but it's got a Brigadoonish quality right from the get go. A stranger (Anthony Vitrano) comes to town and meets some townsfolk who are, well, a little weird. Not to themselves, of course, but the audience has to figure out the weirdness and piece together the clues much like their stand-in does. The Cirrius Inn, run by Maggie (Teresa Kelsey), doesn't accept credit cards (isn't that anti-American?), and the town is so small (how small is it?) that the Mayor (Charles Buckley) is also the Judge and Postmaster. He also has a soft spot for Maggie's blueberry muffins, the Monday breakfast special. Is Hooterville the next town down the road?

Well, no. There's something serious going on, and the joke on the town's name is both intentional and readily acknowledged by the townspeople. Even though the Stranger's jokes are met with blank stares, Cirrius appears to him to be a veritable utopia, the perfect place to escape the rat race. (There's a funny running gag about how everything noteworthy that happened in town took place in 1991.) But the reason for everyone's serious mien turns out to be a statute outlawing laughter, which seems seriously at odds with the town's benevolence. And although Maggie's table seems to be the place to take meals in town, everyone's tightlipped about what's behind it all.

Well, the secret comes out (of course), and although the play was first produced in 2000, it has an eerie and chilling current relevance. (It also bears a glancing similarity to The Sweet Hereafter, book and film.) But the cast goes far in giving Nick Vigorio, Jr.'s short play a whimsical quality, with Teresa Kelsey pitch-perfect in a combination of deadpan and homey sweetness. Nina Czitrom had such a natural charm that if she'd sung a quiet ballad it would not have been out of place. Vitrano was appropriately clueless (the Stranger comes from back East, after all), and Charles Buckley and Peter James Kelsch struck the right note of mystery without tipping the playwright's hand.

Vigorito and director Morgan Doninger have pretty much confined the action to Maggie's table, and the food she serves practically becomes another character in the play -- it seems to be the safest topic of conversation, as well as thoroughly nourishing. And fresh too -- nearly everything served was grown in the yard out back (even the nuts). But there's no escaping the realities of life, and even in Cirrius, Nebraska budding romantics look out at the sky with cirrus clouds above the horizon.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler