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LOSS FOR WORDS

New play, ’Introspective,’ needs more thought

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Sometime in his life playwright Johnathan Cerio found out that we all die. Apparently, he never got over this profound discovery.

His new play, "Introspective," now at Ryan Repertory Company’s Harry Warren Theatre, tells the story of eight people who have one thing in common - they have all lost someone dear to them. It is directed by Nick Lugo, who does his best with a small space, lots of characters and a rambling plot that never quite finds its center.

Anthony Tolve plays an aged opera singer who has lost his wife to sickness and old age. David Risley portrays a young man whose wife has died in childbirth. Diane Brereton acts the part of a young lady who has a brief relationship with a man named Dean (Dean Grillo), who meets her in a bar, changes her life, then promptly gets killed in a car accident. The advice that transforms her is simply, "If you want to write, just write." Wow!

Patricia Kane appears briefly as a bereaved widow whose bed is no longer warmed by her spouse. And Ed Basil plays a young man in love with a girl named Tiffany. Tiffany doesn’t die but goes one better. She marries another man.

Most of these characters are defined only in terms of their loss. And those characters that are more deeply explored, like the opera singer (who speaks in a "Godfather" whisper) sometimes end up as caricatures, despite the best efforts of the by-and-large capable actors. Cerio is not only the playwright but also the narrator. He makes penetrating statements like, "Why is there loss?"

In the second half of the play Cerio morphs into Jay, lover of Mark (Marc Basi), who not too surprisingly turns out to be afflicted with AIDS. It’s not clear whether or not the playwright is actually gay himself, but he certainly harbors some strange ideas about the disease, for instance the belief that one can contract HIV by drinking infected blood.

Making the narrator into the central character deprived of his lover by AIDS may give some the impression that the play is really about how the AIDS epidemic has ravaged the gay community, and all the other stories are merely window dressing.

Another play about AIDS may be disappointing or exhilarating, depending on your point of view. But if this is where the playwright’s heart really lies, the play might have been much better if he had been more forthcoming from the very beginning and more centered on his real concern throughout.

The play does have some high points. Craig Kwasnicki, dressed in a red jacket and red striped vest, dazzles as the charismatic and cynical clown. More evil than amusing, he performs magic, jokes and teases the audience.

Lugo and Ryan Repertory Executive Director Barbara Parisi have created some excellent lighting effects - especially when the opera singer appears in a tiny dressing room on the other side of a stage door.

Kwasnicki uses the small space rather well - sauntering down the aisle and jumping onto the stage. But the smallness of the theater has resulted in some weird blocking, with the action on two levels, often for no apparent reason, and actors crowded onto the stage or facing the audience rather than each other. It may be that Cerio’s play is just too ambitious for the space provided.

"Introspective" is Cerio’s first play. It definitely shows ability. His dialogue moves nicely and is occasionally funny. But it relies too much on cliche and audience-specific jokes. Most important, Cerio needs to choose less sophomoric themes and treat them in a more mature manner.

We all know we’re going to live lives of successive loss until the ultimate loss of life itself. But life also gives us great gifts. The challenge is not to figure out why we die but rather what to do with the time we are given. This is the stuff of great literature and great plays. If Cerio were to follow this route, who knows what might happen?

 

Ryan Repertory Company’s production of "Introspective" plays through July 20, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturday, July 13 at 5 pm and 8 pm; Sunday, July 14 at 2 pm and 5 pm; and Saturday, July 20 at 2 pm and 8 pm. Performances are at the Harry Warren Theatre, 2445 Bath Ave. at Bay 38th Street. Tickets are $15 on Thursday, $18 on Friday, $24 and $22 Sundays. Seniors and students $20 all dates. For reservations call (718) 996-4800 or e-mail ryanrep@juno.com.

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