Writers on writing

Invitation to a Mastectomy

By Esta Fischer
Directed by David Renwanz
Astoria Performing Arts Center
31-30 33rd Street, Astoria (718/278-5925 or www.apacnyc.org)
Equity showcase (closes May 25)
Review by Rebecca Longworth

In this one-act by the winner of last year’s Original Playwright Competition held by the Astoria Performing Arts Center, David (David Dotterer) has asked his brother, Ron (Ed Baccari), to bring no guests at all to the hospital where his wife, Marlene, is undergoing a mastectomy. Unfortunately for David, Ron invites their overbearing mother, Lola (Arlene Love), who makes clear that she never liked Marlene to begin with. Rather than comforting her son, Lola accuses him of trying to undermine her, and Ron’s inability to offer solace turns into a morbid interrogation of David’s feelings about his wife’s appearance without a breast. Each fends off imagined and real attacks of the others, Ron insisting he still lives with Lola to take care of her, and David insisting Marlene has not caused her own cancer. Lola's self-absorption eclipses Marlene's situation until her own final, embarrassing plea for attention makes Lola realize that her presence isn't helping David. As Lola and Ron exit, David's focus can return at last to his wife's predicament.

While the actors were strong talents who inhabited their characters well, they lacked a connection to each other that came through attentive listening and sharp comic timing. Mr. Dotterer’s put-upon David and Ms. Love’s absurdly grandiose Lola were colorful outlines, but they felt like cardboard and did not develop throughout the piece. Mr. Baccari’s organic responsiveness and sensitivity to the proper weight of his lines became the glue that held the ensemble together. Still, the richness of each character was stunted by the script’s overstatement of their dysfunctionality and the perfunctory staging in the empty waiting room. Lola is not given lines in which to veil her vitriol and insecurity, and the actors and director did not find other ways to give her character credibility. Ms. Fischer has a gift for dialogue and dramatic structure, but in this piece she has not created wholly believable characters.

The evening’s first act was an unrelated series of six short monologs performed by their writers. The standout in this crowd was Chris Alonzo’s Active Wear for the Suburban Vampire, a story of coping with parental divorce delivered with humor and pathos. Beginning with a son’s sarcastic rage toward his father, Alonzo finally puts his anger to constructive use in a reasoned conversation with Dad. His performance was rich in subtext and an effortless engagement with the audience, elements that were absent from the other monologs. Welcome to My Show, by Derek Hood, is an entertaining if familiar take on the busy life of the nonworking actor; Jeans One and Two a comic rant in two parts by David Williams about finding size 28 x 28 jeans; The Body Project, by Lara Lauchheimer, a bulemic’s tale. Cast Me, by People Food (Danny Stessen), is a poem that flows at first in alliterative stanzas and then breaks free of the alliteration to artfully describe the effect of poetry on the audience. Here’s the Pitch, by Abigail Koenig, concerns a young writer making a film pitch; in a last-ditch effort she describes the story of her own nearly disillusioned life. Koenig manages to sum up the effect of all the monologs as she describes her writer’s dilemma: there are a lot of great one-liners, and these performers clearly feel that they have something to say, but can’t manage to get around the fact that most of it has already been said.

In all, the original play and monologs written and performed by local talent gave a striking example of the artistic strength residing in Astoria, and fulfilled APAC’s mission of bringing quality entertainment to the neighborhood at affordable prices. This two-year-old company is one to watch.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting: 1/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2003 Rebecca Longworth