Alive On The Inside
Written and Performed by Richard Eagan
Eight year-old Richard Eagan tore out of the subway, running as only an eight year-old can towards hurdy-gurdy music, colored lights, the smell of salt, “popcorn, axel grease, and sweet something.” His straw-boatered grandfather, Montague Sidney Chamberlain Renshaw, aka the Colonel, had declared, “It is high time for me and for you to make a tour of General Coney’s Island.”
Things were different then. Coney Island was holding, white-knuckled, to its nationwide reputation as an affordable beach resort with rides, games, and entertainment. Steeplechase Park stood as 12 fenced-in acres of amusements, a giant mechanical garden accented by statuary. The Colonel seemed to know everyone by name. He bought Richard a ‘combination ticket’ which could be punched all around “until your ticket’s empty and you can’t see straight” and regaled him with stories. The boy took in everything around him like a sponge, longing with all his heart to be a part of it.
Then life happened. The family moved, he attended several schools, became an actor, began therapy, and took up fine carpentry, “a favorite occupation for white boys in the 1970s.” When they sold Steeplechase Park and demolished most of the rides, Richard wasn’t paying attention. Not even when The Colonel died did he emerge from a morass of self involvement. Still, the place called to him.
With some urgency, he returned. “All that was left was a gaping hole and an aching heart in the greatest place in the world.” Resolving to do what he could, Richard founded The Coney Island Hysterical Society whose first effort was painting a large mural of the place’s former glory. From a 20’ scaffold, listening to the music of 70 something year-old Freddie Moran’s wind-up victrola in the house below The Cyclone (roller-coaster), he watched the members of Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club (founded 1903) plunge into icy, winter waters, past and present unwittingly side by side.
This is the story of Richard Egan’s love affair with Coney Island; of cigar chomping, uber-luxury-car driving, Ronnie D. who sized up the young man’s dreams and successively seduced him into running a ‘plate pitch’ (toss a quarter onto a plate) – when a kid won an expensive teddy bear, Ronnie D. would buy it back at a profit and return the prize to his tent; The Florida Shark Show- with short, dumpy, sweat-suited Miss Atlantis and three sleepy, baby sharks- “Ah, but wait til ya see the show;” and what was left of the Funhouse-after Richard dealt with rubbish, rust, and shot hydraulics. (This does not end well.)
Dramatis personae also includes Leo who recommends the acquisition of a number of High Strikers (the strength game wherein one attempts to ring a high bell with a heavy mallet) and explains how a high ticket booth helps one rip off the rubes and local fixture Jake Fine whose Basketball Toss becomes a practical second to stock recommendations.
Richard Eagan shares colorful character emulations with pitch-perfect accents, the art of the bally (outside come-on), and old timers’ tricks of the trade. Details are so specific and rich, you feel like you were there. Beautifully written and performed, Alive on the Inside is part Ray Bradbury and part Dylan Thomas (A Child’s Christmas in Wales.) It aches for another time, only briefly referring to the short-sighted wheeler dealers who eschewed refurbishing for commercializing. The piece is vivid, amusing and extremely touching. This is storytelling. One can only hope it has a future.
Though well chosen, Chris Tsakis’ sound effects were too loud, too long and too abrupt.
Harlem Blooms in Spring – Impressions of Langston Hughes
Written and Performed by Jersten Seraile
Directed by Zishan Ugurlu
I would venture to guess that no one enjoys being yelled at for over half an hour of a 50 minute show, especially in an intimate theater. The earnest actor/author and his director might easily have embodied frustration, anger, passion without sustained volume.
Langston Hughes’s House Un-American Activities Committee subpoena- ostensibly because of social activism and a trip to Russia, attempts to give this piece form. It’s a good choice, but ricocheting back and forth from childhood (the latter, a well written and acted segment) and discussions of the musical inspiration of his poetry to a perpetually ringing phone is disjointed. The intrusive noise makes its point after twice breaking up monologue, yet continues. Additionally, atmospheric background music is repeatedly too loud all but burying speech.
It’s clear Jersten Seraile is invested here, but the show could use a clearer narrative line and intensity without shouting.
All Photos courtesy of the productions
410 West 42nd Street
In its 7th season, United Solo is the world’s largest solo theater festival. Performers from 18 countries, 23 states, and six continents will present their unique works between September 15 and November 20, 2016.
Tickets: Telecharge (or 212-239-6200) and at the Theatre Row Box Office (410 West 42nd Street, NYC).
For the full calendar of performances, please click to visit the United Solo website.