I had no idea what to expect from a play that featured a masked wrestler on its poster; or more to the point, a fat guy in a mask and red cape. But my friend had free tix, so off we went to the Adrienne Theatre Skybox on Sansom Street in Philly…meaning the third floor walk-up of an unassuming venue, across from Helium, the comedy club, which I started wishing I was headed to instead. But I’m glad I made the climb.
The play, “American Sligo,” was written by Adam Rapp who, according to his bio, is “an American novelist, playwright, screenwriter, musician and film director…who combines humor with gloom, preferring dark themes.” Oh yeah he does.
The premise–played out on a static stage set as a dining room/living room in an Ohio home–tells the story of a boy (tragic because he lost his father at a young age) who’s won a sweepstakes by buying more than 400 magazines to see the last wrestling match of his hero, Art “Crazy Train” Sligo (tragic for many, many reasons). He’s come by bus, which Kyle, one of Sligo’s tragic (for many reasons) sons, has a very hard time understanding (he won a contest and they put him on a BUS for two-and-a-half days? Are you gonna SAY something to them about that? he implores his uncaring father) and has now joined the truly sad, dysfunctional family for dinner before the big event.
As Bobby Bibby, 23-year-old Jordan Mottram brought the needed “innocent kid-ness” to his debut role with the New City Stage Company and is entirely convincing, especially when he’s choking and turning all kinds of red. His portrayal of a wounded boy with a dream is spot on, understated and moving.
As the object of his affection, John Jezior is a mullet-wig-red-leotard-wearing sad dad, who lights a candle at the empty place set at the table in perpetuity for his late wife and who, by all appearances, has given up trying to have a good influence on his sons–or anyone else. It takes a real man to wear that outfit in front of an audience, and Jezior portrays Sligo as a mad, macho man–eyeliner and all. He is totally convincing as the aging star who feels good about nothing, not even this last stand in the arena.
Son Kyle–a frustrated computer nerd who mimics his father at every turn–alternately worships and hates his wayward brother, Victor. Throughout the play, I kept thinking I knew the actor, Sam Sherburne, from somewhere, he looked so familiar. It wasn’t until after the show that he gave me my answer: yeah, he said, it’s because I look like–say it together now–Paul Giamatti. YES! And even tho I hate PG, I admired Sherburne’s portrayal of the lesser offspring who believes that life is unfair everywhere you look.
By far, the person who suffers the most at the dinner table is unappreciated, unloved, depressed, chatty, confused Aunt Bobbie–who has stepped in for her late sister as matriarch of the family she always wanted but never had. She cannot for the life of her remember her dinner guest’s name even though it’s her own: Bobby, and is criticized and shushed constantly. Played to perfection by Suzanne Sulby, Aunt Bobbie is the epitome of a gal from MinneSOta who just wants everyone to be happy. She’ll make you wanna cry.
Although brother Victor–an ex-con diabetic with a cocaine habit and enough hatred in his soul to light the whole of Las Vegas (if it ran on anger)–is the last to come home for dinner, he dominates the bulk of the play and shines the light on all that is, and has been, wrong in the Sligo household. I cannot rave enough about the stunning performance that Allen Radway gave Wednesday night but I can say that I–and I’m sure every woman in the audience–fell in love with this lanky, tormented genius, as he took over the stage ranting and raving (yes, both), hating everyone and everything and being a total asshole. Oh the angst, the sadness, the utter despair–if Rapp did not have Radway in mind when he wrote the part, then he was probably ecstatic when he met him: he is THAT insanely good.
Rounding out the cast are Ginger Dayle (founder of the company) and Francesca Piccioni as the unfortunate women in the brothers’ lives. As with the other five actors, the women are wonderful in their small but pivotal roles.
The play is dark, sad, funny, smart, and a quick 85 minutes, no intermission. It runs through June 23. You can purchase tickets by visiting http://www.NewCityStage.org. Tell them Patti sent you. Seriously, they won’t know who you’re talking about, but do it just for giggles and shits.