It’s rare that a theater venue garners as much interest as a production, but Torn Page appears to be a throwback anomaly. Up a winding wood staircase, the second floor sitting room of an old west side townhouse formerly occupied by actors Rip Torn and his wife Geraldine Page serves as a “classroom and event space.” Run by actor/director/producer Tony Torn who lives upstairs, the facility hosts literary and poetry readings as well as theatrical productions. Most are pay what you wish; some suggest bringing a dish or drink to share. Wine and nuts were available last night.
The intimate, high ceiling, rectangular room seats twenty in two rows of old, black metal folding chairs. An ornate gold fireplace is the only permanent fixture. Our amiable bartender turned out to be one of the cast. The ethos of Torn Page is reminiscent of 50s and 60s New York theater community when actors gathered at private residences, church basements, and borrowed backrooms to ply their craft to the interested. For all I know, the dedicated underground still exists. It’s heartening to think so. Their door is open.
Lorenzo (Lucas Salvagno)
Bent double, her head beneath his fur coat, Antonia (Josefina Scaro) pushes her brother Lorenzo (Lucas Salvagno) around the room in a wheeled office chair as he sings along with Argentinean vocalist Marco Antonio Solis (a real person), arms spread like flying. “I wake and think of you at the break of dawn…The rhythm of life doesn’t seem right to me…” (English lyrics are projected over the fireplace with a photo, then video of the singer.) Antonia concocts stories to entertain them: In this one, Solis wrote this song from prison having murdered the woman who inspired it. There was lots of blood. The public forgave and made him a star.
Lorenzo changes his shirt again and again preparing to go out. Brother and sister sing. Frida Kahlo paintings successively appear above the mantle. This one is of a woman, naked and maimed. Antonia seems to revel in pain and violence. The thirty-something siblings are close and extremely physically affectionate. (Shades of Les Enfants Terribles by Cocteau.)
Ursula (Ana B. Gabriel) and Antonia (Josefina Scaro)
Antonia never leaves the house. Never. She’s content surfing the net (a pile of art print outs next to her laptop is a red herring), reads, and listens to music. The only people she meets are brought in by Lorenzo. He does what he can to shelter the emotionally fragile young woman who ricochets between brash confidence and tears. The Buenos Aires household is supported by his job and that of their mother’s.
Attractive mom Ursula (Ana B. Gabriel) also prepares to go out, dressing in bright red, denying it’s a date. She presses, then threatens Lorenzo about telling Antonia of his plans to leave. He says nothing’s firm. Antonia and Lorenzo argue and embrace. Antonia and Ursula argue and embrace. Sexual attraction if not practice is implied.
Antonia (Josefina Scaro) and Maxililiano (Ben Becher)
Into this strange, volatile family scenario comes Lorenzo’s workmate Maxililiano (Ben Becher), a rough cut man with street accent, a 50s leather jacket and white t-shirt a la Brando and Dean without the exaggerated characteristics. Understandably surprised, he navigates the situation. Antonia and Maxi are powerfully drawn.
These are the bones of a play that leaves one at sea. What do the Kahlos mean; the pop star’s songs, Lorenzo’s reading Moby Dick? Is incest occurring? Will Lorenzo leave? Would the women survive? Not a clue. Sections of dialogue are intriguing, especially Antonia’s challenging of Maxi, but the sinister surrealism doesn’t hang together. By the time Ursula drunkenly sucks up all the air in the room (Gabriel chewing scenery), making a pass at Maxi, minds wander.
Maxililiano (Ben Becher)
Josefina Scaro and Luca Salvagno are fine. Lorenzo comes off more of a piece in great part because of the writing, though the actor adds no distinctive qualities. Ben Becher is the standout here. It’s difficult to look elsewhere when the compellingly understated actor is on stage. His Maxi is completely credible. Inadvertently, the secondary character becomes a center of attention. (Watch for him elsewhere.)
Tony Torn’s direction utilizes the confined space effectively. Physical relationships are sharply defined. A combustible moment involving Antonia and Maxi is terrifically choreographed. Small stage business emerges well integrated. That Gabriel (Ursula) should be allowed the latitude to wildly overplay, however, is an issue.
Photos by Maria Baranova
The Whole of Time by Romina Pula
Translated by Jean Graham-Jones
Directed by Tony Torn
435 West 22nd Street 2nd floor
Through January 27, 2024
Information and Events