John Chatterton’s venerable series of festivals are legend in the off-off Broadway realm. Aside from giving playwrights and young artists a forum, they also serve to spotlight some really masterful works. A regular to the circuit is Joanne de Simone, whose diverse works show no limit to characterizations. Last year, her pen yielded Marilyn Monroe in Heaven and an enigmatic Native American a century gone by. Subject for your approval this time: two neighborhood gals and a new kind of American tragedy – that of living inertia – in a quickie called Linoleum’s Hard.
The gals in questions are Vicki – a tough chic from the right side of the tracks who derails herself with pills and promiscuity, while her best friend, Emily, drowns her sorrows in Hershey bars and care giving. We spend an hour watching them spend 30 years finding new ways and old games to stop their lives. De Simone puts a game of 500 Rummy in the middle of everything as a brilliant plot device that serves as the passage of time, a rooting-to-the-old-neighborhood feel, and a sure way for the girls to hold on to each other and their fears. The dialogue is like a salad of piercing quips and secret thoughts – really engrossing.
The talent of the piece is four young women: As Emily we meet her as a cherubic 10-year-old played with oh-so-much innocence by Gaby Mook. All smiles in her rosy cheeks, she makes it that much more painful when she grows into Sara Minisquero, whose knack for pathos and brilliance at age progression makes this character the anchor for which the piece relies. If she is the anchor then Laura Aristovulos is the sail and the mighty wind. Flitting in and out of each scene, she hands in a performance that is powerful yet fragile. The younger version of herself – as portrayed by Abigail Formas – is a perfect replica, sharp tongued and ready to fight if only to hide the tears. All four women give trained, engrossing performances.
For those who know the works of director Jay Michaels (a main stay in the New York theater scene for decades), his hand was thickly seen with rapid-fire timing, overlapping dialogue (timed to let only the important words flow), and the homage to Playhouse 90 style set and lighting.
A strong message delivered by competent artists. All in all, a very pleasing evening.
Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. After a short and unhappy stint at Newsday, he is delighted to write for several online services.