Trio – Ethan Kanfer

Written by Mario Fratti
Directed by Stephan Morrow
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue

Review by Ethan Kanfer

Although the three one-act plays in Mario Fratti’s Trio take place in vastly different locales, they all share a common theme: that things are not what they seem. Each piece ends with a revelation, some more startling — and more interesting — than others. In keeping with the anthology format, director Stephan Morrow and set designer Mark Marcante (aided by set detailer Zen Mansley) have divided the space into three playing areas. Alexander Bartenieff’s mood-evoking lights to draw focus to one setting while obscuring the others, thus allowing each piece have its own detailed scenery. Preferable to frantic set changes between acts, this ingenious use of space gives the show a lavish look, and helps bolster the reality of each of three separate worlds.

In Anniversary, a wealthy patrician, played by Patrick McCarthy, welcomes a guest to his opulent abode. Ostensibly the young woman, played Jennifer Loryn, is the gentleman’s prodigal daughter, home to celebrate her birthday after a long absence. But something is amiss here. The two seem to have very different maps of Memory Lane. Indeed, the entire setup proves to be an elaborate role-playing scenario engineered with the help of the old man’s butler, played by Sean Phillips, who has a hidden agenda of his own. Although the twist ending is provides an enjoyably melodramatic payoff, Anniversary takes a long time getting to where it’s going and could benefit from pruning. Still, the ensemble playing is well handled. Phillips, in particular, is fun to watch as the quiet servant whose gestures speak volumes.

Missionaries takes place in Africa, where a Father Edwards, played by Chris Kerson, suffers from a crisis of faith. Shattered by the sight of starvation and disease, he has broken his vow of celibacy to seek life-affirming solace in the arms of local women. His sins have driven a rift between him and a stern colleague Sister Caterina, played by Rose Gregorio. Now the young priest must win Caterina over to his side, as he desperately needs her help. His sexual dalliances have brought about unintended consequences, and now another missionary (offstage) is in danger of losing her life. There are interesting themes here, but the play gets off to a sluggish start. To establish the life-and-death stakes earlier on might have been a stronger choice, especially given that the short play format affords little time to meander. Again, though, Morrow does a deft job with his ensemble. Gregorio’s air of Spartan authority is nicely counterbalanced by Kerson’s blend of frailty and self-reproach.

The strongest of the three entries is Blindness, whose title refers to both the literal and psychological inability to see things as they are. Soldier Brian, played convincingly by Brendan McDonough, returns home blinded by wounds he received while fighting in Iraq. But he’s lucky compared to his best friend Jim, who was killed (or so the official story goes) in action. Selflessly, Brian pays a visit to Jim’s family in an effort to help ease their grief. But despite Brian’s best efforts, tensions simmer between the two men in Jim’s family. The father, Anderson, played by Joe Ambrose, is a Vietnam vet who insists on seeing his son’s sacrifice as heroic and necessary. Jim’s younger brother, played by Billy Marshall Jr., disagrees. He opposes the war, and views Jim’s death as tragic and pointless. The last word, though, belongs to Brian’s wife, Cathy, played with quiet intensity by Rachael McCowen. When she is alone at last with Jim’s brother, Cathy finally tells the un-sanitized true story of how Jim died. The play abruptly ends after this bombshell is delivered. It would have been interesting to carry the action further and examine the ripples that issue throughout the family once the truth is known. Fratti would do well to consider expanding this timely piece into a full-length play.