by Lynn on October 23, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Savage in Limbo

At the Downstage Theatre, 798 Danforth Ave. (Downstairs from the Magic Oven Restaurant). Written by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Sarah Kitz. Designed by Jenna McCutchen. Choreography by Monica Dottor. Starring: Nick Abraham, Diana Bentley, Melissa D’Agostino, Caitlin Driscoll, Tim Walker.

Produced by Bob Kills Theatre Company and plays until November 3.

John Patrick Shanley wrote Savage in Limbo in 1984. It was his third play. Since then he has written 22 more plays (Doubt), plus screenplays (Moonstruck), and won everything from an Academy Award to the Pulitzer Prize to Tony Awards. Not bad for a guy who was thrown out of almost every school he went to including kindergarten.  The US Marines straightened out this bad boy, but there certainly are remnants of a tough Bronx life (he was born in the Bronx).

The cheeky press release begins: “…a virgin, a failed nun and an over-ripe Italian girl walk into a bar…..”

This seedy bar in the Bronx is a haven for losers. In a lovely touch, designer Jenna McCutchen has lined the floor with flattened liquor and beer cartons—perfect for setting the scene. The bar is a simple affair with shelves behind it of bottles of booze.  Murk is the sullen bartender who wants people to either drink or leave. He has a soft spot for April, our failed nun and very successful alcoholic. She sits at the bar in an alcoholic haze lamenting her life. Murk is sweet on her and gives her every drink she wants.

Denise Savage is the virgin in limbo. She says she would love to move on with her life; have a relationship; sleep with a man but can’t because she has to take care of her housebound mother.

Linda Rotunda is the over-ripe Italian. She’s a brash, spandex-wearing tough-broad who has slept around, left her boy friend again, and suggests to Denise that they become friends—they actually went to school together—and after that, to get an apartment and move in together. Freedom at last. Actually the three women have all gone to the same school.

Tony Aronica is Linda’s wayward boyfriend. He comes to the bar to have it out with her. The other women come on to him eventually.

They are all 32 years old and are losers in life, love, jobs and hope. They rage; they accuse; they challenge; they are unrelenting and dangerous in an endearing kind of way.

Shanley knows how to reveal the rawness of characters; to show them at their most brash, muscular, vulgar, hilarious selves. Yes, it’s a comedy with serious overtones. His wit is quick; the situations are funny and serious and Shanley can float a laugh out of all this anger like nobody. They come from the Bronx. He knows those people because he used to be one of them.

I love the bravery of this new theatre company called Bob Kills Theatre, in presenting this early John Patrick Shanley play. It’s in a perfect refitted space as well, called the Downstage Theatre, downstairs from the Magic Oven Restaurant.

The characters explode onto the space in their own ways, all wrangled by director Sarah Kitz. As Murk the barkeep, Tim Walker is still with a stare that is compelling. You don’t mess with this guy. But as I said, he has a soft spot for April who often just puts her head on the bar and sleeps, only to be awakened by Murk with another drink. There is a funny mimed bit at the top of the show of April passing out and being revived by Murk and given another drink, created by the wondrous choreographer, Monica Dottor.

Director Sarah Kitz knows how to keep characters moving to create the sense of unease and pent up energy. Linda Rotunda, beautifully played by Melissa D’Agostino and Tony Aronica, played by a smoldering Nick Abraham especially are always prowling and circling each other, like animals ready to pounce. Linda is packed into her spandex pants and tight top ready to jump the bones of her boyfriend, or challenge anyone else.

As Denise Savage, Diana Bentley is buttoned up, repressed, fearful, funny and touching as the virgin living a life of longing and frustration. And as April, Caitlin Driscoll is dead-eyed, in an alcoholic haze; slow moving and riveting. The last time I saw her she played a watchful, manipulative socialite with a secret in The Foursome. She is one to watch and make note of. Actually all of these actors are people to watch and make note of.  Brave work. Savage in Limbo is well worth seeing.

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