Have you ever watched a soap opera? It’s okay, you’re among friends. No, really. Fine, I’ll start. I have watched soap operas. I have done so because quite frankly there is some amazing acting on those shows. Like a tree in Brooklyn, it survives amongst some truly awful acting and absolutely ridiculous storyline. The dialogue, like the acting, can go from 0-50 in mere seconds. There doesn’t seem to be much consistency of either. There is something almost Olympic about watching a very good actor utter the most absurd lines. What can I say? It’s fun.
Which explains why I liked The Shoemaker at the Acorn Theater. This new play by Susan Charlotte, has a thin and clumsy plot. The dialogue is stilted at times and excruciating at others. A voice-over is used awkwardly as exposition. At one point I was so embarrassed by this, I fantasized about hiding under my wrap. Perhaps all this was a nod to Ms. Charlotte’s previous gig at Guiding Light? The heavy-handed subject matter; the attack on the World Trade Center and The Holocaust, partly saved this play. Sounds a bit counter-intuitive, no? I am no fan of “neuralgia” (as it’s called in my home) and I do abhor cheap sentimentality. But even I can concede that these subject matters transcend bad writing.
Now add the rawness of the subjects with the presence of Danny Aiello, and you have the makings for a pleasant afternoon. Mr. Aiello is just heartbreaking. I know how ridiculous I was choking back sobs as he recited one of the four questions. In Hebrew. But hey, a gal can only take so much.
The play takes place in a (nicely set) shoemaker’s shop. There are some flaws in the set decoration, but there are bigger issues with which to contend. Mr. Aiello is joined on stage by Alma Cuervo, a delight. Saddled with dialogue and monologue entirely incongruent with the events of the day (9/11/01) they still manage to create some very lovely moments. Mercifully, the voice-over (with varying degrees of technical accuracy in volume control) is held to a minimum in the first act. Unfortunately, the first act ends with a glimpse of what’s in store. A third character (Lucy Devito) walks on stage with all the dramatic believability of a lost audience member.
The only thing keeping one in their seat during the second act are the monologues of Mr. Aiello. He rises above the muck and finds his own beautiful truth. This would simply not be possible in lesser hands.
One need only read the program to ascertain how this play got to the stage. The playwright produced it. The relationships between the actors and the donors are extensive. Lucy Devito, so very painful to watch, is probably the most egregious of the nepotism at play. But, it seems The Acorn has carved out a certain niche for themselves. Their next performance is The Pretty Trap, starring Katharine Houghton. You remember her. She was last seen asking her Aunt Katherine; “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?”