a room of my own – Looking Back with Surprise

Playwright Charles Messina’s a room of my own, (10 year-old Carl Morelli’s request to Santa Claus), is so convincing, you’ll feel like a fly on the wall. Insults, accusations, and bigoted remarks laced with heavily New York-accented expletives are lobbed with the speed and precision of Jai alai. One can almost see them ricochet. Vehemence with which this Italian American family communicates is natural to them. It neither indicates special fury nor belies affection. Much is unconsciously funny.

3 (2)Joli Tribuzio, Mario Cantone, Johnny Tammaro

A wonderfully manifest, shabby, studio walk-up in Greenwich Village (Brian Dudkiewicz- Scenic Design/Addison Heeren-Props) is cheaply decked out for Christmas. It’s home to Peter Morelli (Johnny Tammaro), unemployed at 40 after “a small heart attack,” his wife Dotty, who works at a bakery (Joli Tribuzio), and their children, teenage? Jeannie (Kendra Jain) and precocious, young Carl (Nico Bustamante).

The kids’ mouths, it should be noted, are as fluently foul as their parents.’ Jean shares a daybed with her mom, Carl sleeps on a convertible couch with pop. Privacy is a word in the dictionary; boundary is not. Dotty’s effusive, gay brother, Jackie (Mario Cantone), lives upstairs when he’s not “visiting.”

Framing may sound cliché, but Messina has conceived people with so much specificity and humanity one is drawn in and, eyebrow raised, happily remains. An extremely entertaining piece realized by a solid ensemble.

3 (1)Ralph Macchio, Nico Bustamante

The Morellis (Jackie, and eventually Aunt Jean) are acting a play by grown up Carl (Ralph Macchio of Karate Kid fame playing an everyman) who, laptop in hand, speaks to the audience, rails at his oblivious family, and occasionally interacts with his younger self.

Neither Pete nor Dotty has paid Carl’s convent school tuition in almost two years. The head nun’s request for overdue term remittance is a revelation to Pete. Dotty asserts inaccuracy. “You takin’ the word of a freakin’ nun over your own wife?!” In reality, a series of concocted sob stories has made the institution lenient. Peter backs up in presumed habitual path of least resistance.

Adult Carl would prefer his parents seen in a better light but almost immediately loses control of narration. “Are you going to tell the truth?” young Carl accuses adult Carl. “I’m going to tell my truth,” is the response.

Mario Cantone’s Jackie is whole and fabulous. Having established the persona on Sex and The City, if not before, the actor has developed him to fine art. Entering in white pants and a lavender t-shirt emblazoned with Doris Day. (Costumes by Catherine Siracusa are terrific.) Dotty’s brother is, to say the least, expansive. Though sarcasm abounds elsewhere, almost all the actual humor emanates from, or is illuminated by this character. “Dear God, I should’ve moved to San Francisco when I had the chance!” He’s mindlessly coarse, but, grounded, manages to be the heart and conscience of the dysfunctional Morellis. Cantone keeps him sympathetic.

4Nico Bustamante, Kendra Jain, Mario Cantone

We experience daily travails – poverty, rotten neighbors, the absence of adult sex “Commn’ I’ll be quick; ‘Om all backed up!” (Peter). Jackie is visited by mom’s ghost. Dotty is lifting from the shop till. Pete’s concern is meatballs (he does the cooking.) The kids hold their own despite constant yelling and easily misinterpreted sallies. Christmas is minimal but with a little handy shoplifting by mom, manages to pacify the kids. Jackie’s holiday bathrobe is to die for.

When a surprise New Year’s Eve guest turns everything upside-down, Dotty has the opportunity to change their lives, yet…

Joli Tribuzio (Dotty) is marvelous. She inhabits this role with nerve-fraying surety. Every tone, gesture, and crack feels natural. Impatience is infectious, fury palpable; plotting darkly credible.

Liza Vann (Jean Morelli) brings gravitas to the piece with a steady hand. One feels her character’s purpose, resolution and pain. Vann imbues Jean with speech and mannerisms embodying her different life as much as anything scripted.

Nico Bustamante (young Carl) swears with ease, reacts believably, and transitions in and out of the play with impactful lack of ceremony.

Direction by Charles Messina is remarkable. The kids surprisingly appear from beneath blankets where they’ve hidden though early dialogue – a nifty conceit. Both adult and child Carl, suffering from a delicate stomach, drink directly from bottles of Pepto-Bismol. Expressions are often priceless without seeming manufactured. Both pathos and comedy are wisely played straight to their best advantage. The small stage appears larger for almost continuous action, including a choreographed disco number. Flare-ups erupting out of already heated conversation manage distinction.

Photos by Ben Strothmann
Opening: Back Mario Cantone, Joli Tribuzio, Johnny Tammaro, Kendra Jain
Front: Nico Bustamante, Ralph Macchio

a room of my own
Written and Directed by Charles Messina
Abingdon Theatre Company
312 West 36th Street
Through March 13, 2016

About Alix Cohen (790 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.