Bernadette “Bernie” Vincolo (Stephanie Gould) has spent hours sitting in a tiny sandbox, calmly pouring sand from one cup into another. In her twenties, the girl is brain damaged. She has a slowed mind, limited comprehension, no verbal boundaries, and is viscerally upset by anger or unexpected change.
It’s dinner time. Mom Gladys (a solid Margo Singaliese) is serving pasta with gravy for her working class Italian family. Appliances are a familiar ochre color denoting period and economic status. None of the tableware matches. Husband, Michael Sr. (Jordan Lage – gruff, manly, credible) owns a local bar with his uncle, Charles “Ski” Bodanski (Stephen D’Ambrose).
Margo Singaliese, Jordan Lage, Stephanie Gould
Son “Mikey” (Forrest Malloy) works at a fast food joint but, apparently brighter than his lot in life, is reading philosophy. Only a few years apart, he adores his sister. When Mikey finds her with a book on current heartthrob Elvis Presley, he concocts a fantasy by which Elvis faked his death to be with her. (She understands it’s make-believe.) Devotion borders on parental.
The family is close. Everyone expresses love for and is physically affectionate and patient with Bernie. These are not likely people who have researched her differences beyond medical diagnosis. Behavior is faith based and comes from the heart. A single bone of contention is Michael’s desire to have Bernie declared mentally handicapped in court so that the family will receive financial aid and she’ll be cared for when he and Gladys have passed. The patriarch won’t hear of Mikey’s being saddled with her. His wife can’t face the future.
Stephen D’Ambrose, Benjamin Rosloff, Forrest Malloy
There are 13 phone messages for Bernie from Jeff Goldblum (a flat out terrific Benjamin Rosloff) – no, not the film actor. A peer on the spectrum, he’s sweet on her. She doesn’t know what to do with his attention and so avoids it. Mikey, in turn, is besotted with co-worker Laura (Ismenia Mendes – just the right edginess), whose boyfriend, the fry cook, is demeaning and violent – but probably good looking. Mikey disparages himself for being overweight. Warmth and sensitivity is not winning the girl.
That’s the believable set up. Scott Aiello’s play tells the story of an inadvertent step forward for Bernie triggering a purposeful one for Mikey. Writing is good, touching without being maudlin and periodically very original. When Laura’s boyfriend beats up Mikey, she finds her friend at home holding a bottle of ranch dressing to his cheek and one of maple syrup to his ribs. “Bernie doesn’t always remember what goes in the freezer,” he explains. The character Jeff emerges a wonderful combination of awareness and impediment.
Forrest Malloy and Stephanie Gould
As Bernie, Stephanie Gould’s facial expression, speech patterns, and movement couldn’t be more real. When she hugs, it’s with her whole person. Lack of mindful behavior and confusion feels true, cloudy consciousness as if overwhelming in real time.
Brother Mikey is ably represented by Forrest Malloy who exudes affection and sensitivity. The actor visibly clocks Bernie’s state and reacts. Scenes with Laura are palpably frustrating. We root for the character.
Director Claire Karpen has so much feel for the world of her autistic characters, it’s easy to conjecture she’s reflecting personal experience. Kitchen sink directness brings the Vincolo family into fine focus.
James Ortiz’ compact, three level Set Design works well to offer visual variety. Details are aptly telling.
Izzy Fields’ Costumes look as if the characters walked off the street in them – like second skin.
Photos by Michael Kushner
Opening: Forrest Malloy and Stephanie Gould
Strangemen Theatre Company presents
Bernie and Mikey’s Trip to the Moon by Scott Aiello
Directed by Claire Karpen
Through December 2, 2018
59 East 59th Street