Domestic debut

Bleecker Street Comics

By Leslie Caputo
Directed by Marcia Haufrecht
Common Basis Theater
750 8th Avenue (340-1112)
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 30)
Review by John Chatterton

The Box Score at the bottom of the review doesn't tell the whole story. That's why a review accompanies the Box Score.

In the case of Bleecker Street Comics, Leslie Caputo's first play, the case could be made that writing of such a high level of authority deserves a 2, regardless of the dramaturgical weaknesses of the play itself. Caputo shows a fine ear, probably the first and most important qualification of a dramatist - one without which nothing else amounts to a hill of beans. As with a born actor's riveting first performance, the rest is just technique. Alas, an oobr reviewer must weigh all aspects of a contribution and assign a composite score.

The play concerns the small store of the title, a family-owned comic-book emporium. The father, Frankie (Jack Caputo), has one employee, his 19-year-old son, Paulie (Andrew Farrar). (It's no wonder Frankie has gray hair!) Paulie's jobs include mailing checks to suppliers and minding and closing the store in his dad's absence. Paulie's friend G (Olga Denoi), two years his junior, an aspiring comic-book artist (apparently a lesbian), finds the store a safe haven. She and Paulie banter while she sketches and he broods over his girlfriend. Frankie's friend Sal (Etienne Navarre) drops in to go out on a double date with Frankie. Frankie's ex-wife, and Paulie's mother Cecile (Susan Kostalow Watson), drops in unannounced (after a similar exit many years before) to say hello to her son and incidentally rattle the family applecart.

The pleasures of this play are incidental to the story. Cecile arrives like Blanche in Streetcar, an obviously fragile person on an ill-considered mission. A more difficult entrance for an actor (to the effect of "You know who I am?") would be hard to imagine. A long monolog, in essence, ensues, not helped here by static blocking. Cecile not only doesn't know why she's there; the reasons for her departure are also murky. There's far too much dialog among all the characters, as they try to muddle through their relationships and feelings, mostly without success. At least Blanche is expected.

But their dialog is nonetheless fresh, in a way that can only be explained by inviting the reader to remember (by way of contrast) all the wooden, stagy scenes of Off-Off-Broadway plays gone by. Author Caputo has delved into her subject and come up with a gritty, realistic framework for an as-yet-unfinished play. And the characterizations - especially by Farrar, Navarre, and Denoi - were fresh as farm-stand produce sold by the side of the road. Farrar and Denoi captured the essence of late-teenage angst without any romantic posing. Navarre, the ultimate sad-sack buddy - with severe boundary issues - being carried uphill by his long-suffering friend, carried off his character with worried intensity. His drunk scene should be taped and sold as a lesson in that often-abused subdiscipline of the craft.

These actors delivered their performances with the help of solid writing and casting. Beyond the careful casting, director Haufrecht could have worked more on pointing up the transitions in the script, which arrived and were glossed over with unprepared suddenness. Nevertheless, this was an extremely creditable first play, sensitively produced, and Caputo should be encouraged to revise it or write another one.

E. V. Bodi's set consisted of purple flats painted in flat latex but covered with a colorful and entertaining array of comic-book posters, with some cheap store fittings and an up-center plastic store window (with a crude, static street scene on a flat). Bodi's lighting was general and utilitarian. Uncredited costumes were appropriately grungy.

 Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton