Heart of darkness


By Johnathan Cerio
Directed by Nick Lugo
Ryan Repertory Company
Harry Warren Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Introspective is a first play about death. The narrator (Johnathan Cerio) comes right out at the beginning and reminds the audience that they’re all going to die. The remainder of the play comprises stories of individual characters, the majority of whom die and leave their significant others bereft.

There’s Jay, the narrator, whose father (Allen Lieb) dies without resolving the conflict over Jay’s being gay. Jay’s lover (Marc Basil), who never admits to being HIV-positive, dies of AIDS. A woman (Patricia Kane) loses her husband of 27 years of "massive cardiac heart failure." A young woman (Diane Brereton) meets a man (Dean Grillo) in a bar; he is killed in a car accident just as their relationship is getting serious.

Many of the stories are told directly to the audience. Even dramatic scenes between individuals were directed with the actors facing the audience – a bold stylistic choice, but in keeping with the rest of the play. There is some narrated explanation of why the evening, in keeping with the title, is an internal journey for the narrator/playwright/character, but the explanation doesn’t stick because it is not internalized into any dramatic structure. As a result, the stories come across as heartfelt and sometimes anguished, but without a dramatic hook to hang on.

Two characters (besides the narrator) provide recurring leitmotifs – an opera singer (Anthony Tolve) revealed backstage, preparing for a performance of Pagliacci, and a ringmaster in luridly colorful garb (Craig Kwasnicki; costumes designed by Cerio and Nick Lugo). In the course of the play the opera singer gets fully made up and dressed and delivers an aria. The ringmaster provides a secondary narration that smacks of The Twilight Zone.

For all of the play’s dramatic weaknesses, it does provide intense moments for its characters to reflect on their lives, and the actors made the most of the material, though Tolve tended to exaggerate his Italian dialect with a slow delivery. This is an ambitious work by a young writer, and made for an absorbing if ultimately incomplete evening of theatre.

The production elements were uniformly solid, making the most of the odd-shaped space. The tomblike Harry Warren Theatre descends below ground level, with stadium seating and a high ceiling. Much of the lighting was directly overhead, providing little opportunity for back lighting but causing the actors to float in an effective limbo against the black background. A "trough" of floodlights situated at waist height downstage illuminated scenes on a second level upstage and above the audience (techies changed the gels from cool to warm during the intermission). The sets (Cerio and Lugo) were minimal, involving a couple of set pieces.

This is a well-equipped space located on the W shuttle line two stops from Coney Island (leave plenty of time to get there). Ryan Rep. are obviously a serious company doing serious work, and it is to be hoped that they continue taking artistic risks. (Also featuring David Risley and Ed Morrell.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton