Four on the floor
Four playwrights combine to tell stories set in a single Hell's Kitchen apartment in "Clinton's View," a play whose discontinuities are redeemed by a strong initial concept and a capable cast.
By JOSHUA TANZER
"Clinton's View" refers not, as you might think, to the former president or the junior senator or even Clinton Street but to the realty-correct name for what's still known as Hell's Kitchen. The play brings together four playwrights to write four scenes about life in a single Hell's Kitchen apartment in four decades, from 1967 to 1995.
The results are very good in parts, although the four vignettes don't hold together as well as you might hope. Characters from one scene reappear in others, but many of the issues raised early in the collection are dropped by the subsequent playwrights, making the experience frustrating at times.
|CLINTON'S VIEW: A HELL'S KITCHEN STORY|
|Company: Blue Collar Productions.|
Written by: Marco Jo Clate, The Mensher Brothers, Daniels Parseliti, Jennifer Whinnen.
Directed by: Melissa Welburn.
Cast: James Beecher, Caitlin Rice, Shelley McPherson, Jeff McDonnell, John Mondin, Jeff Auer, David Crane, Marco Jo Clate..
Music by: Benoir and Heath Mensher.
|Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center|
107 Suffolk St. north of Delancey
Aug. 8-24, 2003
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The best work comes early in the introduction by Daniels Parseliti and Jennifer Whinnen, and in the first segment by Whinnen. The 1967 scene shows a family whose conflicts have led son Teddy (Jeff McDonnell) to enlist in the Marines, to which he must report in an hour.
Enough of the family dynamics are on display to suggest where the strains are coming from. Mom (Shelley McPherson) rides herd over her two kids and dad (James Beecher) is more worried about the lord's name being taken in vain under his roof than the family falling apart. "She means well," dad tells the exasperated Teddy, who's sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. "She just . . . isn't well." Little sister Suzy (Caitlin Rice) mostly has her eye on Teddy's room when he leaves, but they have a degree of understanding between them that the parents can't share in the age of the generation gap.
Parseliti's 1976 segment picks up on Teddy's later life, in which post-traumatic stress syndrome has made it hard for him to function in civilian society. The only one of his roommates who understands what he's going through is fellow Vietnam vet Jerry (Jeff Auer). Auer has the best role here, dominating the scene while the self-flagellating Teddy seeks to redeem himself in the eyes of God for what he's done and seen in the war. This scene has its strong points but it's too narrow a slice of life. We need to see more of Teddy's life and hear his thoughts in more lucid moments to understand the scene's meaning. And the nine-year gap between these first two scenes leaves many ends loose. Teddy's mother and sister have vanished so we have little idea what were the implications of the first segment.
The one character we do see close-up over the years is the father, Clint, an Irish immigrant who has continued as the building superintendent in this formerly Irish neighborhood to the present. In the most affecting part of the play the introduction, conclusion and transitional scenes Clint and Suzy talk about the spirit of the building and the years gone by. The elderly father now struggles with his failing mind, but he speaks evocatively about the choices he's made and the modest life he's had. Mysteriously, he tinkers with a seemingly useless contraption of pipes and spigots that he's put together in the basement for reasons that are not apparent at first.
The interlocking pipes may not do anything in terms of carrying water, but they do connect Clint with his fading memories. Suzy, it turns out, is there to take him away for good, to her presumably suburban house where he'll be well cared for but his functional life will be over. It's a melancholy theme, very well written and acted. It's only unfortunate that these exchanges aren't more closely tied in to the later pieces in the play. It's a shortcoming of using four different playwrights that the play's strengths aren't sustained all the way through.
|AUGUST 11, 2003|
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