There is a rose in Spanish Harlem and it’s A SPANISH HARLEM STORY

A SPANISH HARLEM STORY
Written by Steve Silver
Directed by Laurie Rae Waugh
Review by Stephanie Schwartz

A SPANISH HARLEM STORY, presented by American Theatre of Actors in the Beckman Theatre, 2nd floor, 314 West 54th St. Sept. 30 – Oct. 11 @8pm.

Steve Silver has written a tight drama that seems an authentic look at a life in Spanish Harlem. The English language is enhanced with Spanish and Italian expressions sprinkled throughout, reflecting the vernacular of the multi-ethnic community. Ken Coughlin (lighting and sound design) gave a particularly nice touch using salsa, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other Latin styles of music.

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A husband and wife, beautifully played by Rookie Tiwari and Larry Fleishman, mourn the 9-11 death of their daughter and consequently are raising their granddaughter. The husband, Manuel is a recovering drug addict, alcoholic, and ex-con. His wife, Rosario is very supportive of his rehab but also is very concerned that Manuel will slip back into his old life of crime when Mikey, an old family friend and accomplice returns.

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Mikey is effectively played by Steve Silver. Ken Coughlin is convincing as mob boss Tony, who wants Mikey and Manny to do one more job, which involves drugs and Cuban gangsters. The conflict escalates when Manny reconsiders returning to his old life and the consequences it would bring to his future and that of his family.

CAM02348 Mercedes Vega made a nice appearance as the deceased daughter in Rosario’s dream.

This ATA production was directed with a deft hand by Laurie Rae Waugh. As the play proceeded, her direction increased the emotional tension while using the small playing area effectively, moving the actors well, particularly in a fight scene. Rachel Ladany, stage manager did a good job running lights and sound. The set and props were minimal and created the apartment and social club convincingly. All in all, this was a very satisfying and enjoyable evening of theater. I highly recommend it.

I’m going to get straight to the point, since time is running out. SEE THIS PRODUCTION. It will be well worth your time and is worth every penny of the admission price.

Review by Ramona Pula

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“Conversations With My Molester”

Written and performed by Michael Mack
Directed by Daniel Gidron
Technical Direction and Stage Management by Peter Lewis

The Bridge Theatre, 244 W. 54th Street
(between Broadway and 8th Avenue), 12th Floor
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission

Remaining show dates/times:
Sat 10/3 at 8pm; Sun 10/4 at 3pm
Thurs 10/8 at 8pm; Fri 10/9 at 8pm; Sat 10/10 at 8pm; Sun 10/11 at 3pm

Get tickets here http://conversationsplay.brownpapertickets.com/

I’m going to get straight to the point, since time is running out. SEE THIS PRODUCTION. It will be well worth your time and is worth every penny of the admission price.
“Conversations With My Molester” is an absorbing, moving story of not only the abuse of an innocent child, but also of his healing, and of redemption. It’s expertly directed by Daniel Gidron and masterfully performed by consummate artist and poet Michael Mack. The lighting design is terrific, and technically everything works flawlessly.

As my friend Onyi and I entered the space, Gregorian chants played over the sound system, setting the tone so effectively that she and I whispered to each other as we talked before the show. Suddenly I realized, and said, “I feel like I’m in Church.” And Onyi agreed. We laughed because neither of us had ever been so quiet while chatting before a show.

michael-mack_conversations_timo129_mouth-memory_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-Hanson The set is simple and effective, including a piano stage right and a greenboard center stage with “HEART & SOUL” written on it in chalk. Each section of the play is written out on this board, including (but not limited to) “ONE QUESTION” and near the end of the show “PORTRAIT OF A BOY.” A small table with chair stage left and a leather briefcase under the table completes the scenery.

Michael Mack enters and starts out in a somewhat presentational, poetic style, proclaiming in a strong, resonant voice that before he started learning anything in school, he saw priests as superheroes and wanted to be one himself. Praying to him was “sweet breathing” and “A priest was the nearest I got to God’s proscenium stage.” Michael wanted to be center stage, “where the action is.”

He, of course, became an altar boy.

michael-mack_conversations_timo085_under-table_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-Hanson In speech and movement, the performer here struck me as ritualistic, like a… priest actually – and in a way, strangely disconnected. However, that was not to last. This show builds in a slow burn to a powder keg of emotion.

At age 10, Michael still wanted to be a priest, and also a fighter pilot. At this time, when their mother became ill with schizophrenia, he, his brother and sister moved from near Washington D.C. to North Carolina to live with their Aunt May. Their father would visit them from up north on alternate weekends so they could have Saturday supper together every two weeks.
Aunt May was an Episcopalian, while Michael and his siblings went to the Catholic Church in town, Sacred Heart. He became an altar boy there.
The priest at Sacred Heart, who is not named until later in the play (all names have been changed for the show), took Michael to his first baseball game and was generally kind to him. With his father living in D.C., this priest became like the boy’s second dad. When father and Father met, they shook hands. Trust was established, to be betrayed.
For the sake of brevity and to avoid spoilers I’ll refrain from summarizing any more of the story. Suffice it to say that this show is full of surprises and twists, poetry, discomfort, laughs, and a spectrum of emotion that encapsulates a particular human experience that is not restricted to the Catholic Church. As Pope Francis recently pointed out, and as most people in our society already know, children are also violated by relatives, teachers, and other adults entrusted with their care. It’s truly an epidemic that has existed probably for millennia that we are only now in our evolution as a species truly addressing in any real way.

“Conversations With My Molester” explores questions of self-blame, keeping secrets, obsession with talking to one’s abuser(s) in one’s own head, the confusion of some abuse victims in the cases when they feel a combination of attraction and revulsion to the memory of molestation, confrontation and forgiveness, and so much more.

To cover all this in 90 minutes in such a pithy and engrossing way is an artistic achievement of the highest order.

The question of free will is explored, when the choice between doing evil or walking away is presented. This particular segment of the show reminded me of the Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black” when Jagger sings:

I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

Just because you think something, it doesn’t mean you’re compelled to do it. “Forgive yourself for what you never did.”

After most performances, Mack goes backstage to take a short break and then there is a “Talk Back” with him and any members of the audience who wish to stay, moderated by a leader in the healing professions.

The night I went, Norris Chumley, Ph.D, was the moderator. Many audience members chose to stay for the talk, and had their own stories to tell either about themselves or about people they knew and loved.

TANGENT ALERT: At a couple of points during the discussion, Mack said “raises the question” and I want to THANK him for that, since the misuse of the phrase “begs the question” is a pet peeve of mine. (Really, it drives me crazy.)

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When an audience member expressed amazement at what Michael Mack has achieved not just personally but artistically, he responded, “Art is taking the materials of our lives and creating something with it.”