Elisa DeCarlo in Toasted(Photo © Richard Termine)
Elisa DeCarlo in Toasted
(Photo © Richard Termine)
[Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the fifth annual Midtown International Theatre Festival.]

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Toasted

Murder confessions are not normally sent out over the Internet, but Elisa DeCarlo received one and found it impossible to ignore. Toasted, written and performed by DeCarlo and directed by Roger Danforth, tells a bizarre, true-to-life tale that is as fascinating as it is tragic.

DeCarlo, a recovering alcoholic, was an active participant in a group called Moderation Management, which seeks to curb people's drinking problems by reducing the number of alcoholic beverages they consume rather than insisting upon complete abstinence. A major component of her support network was an e-mail listserv of over 200 subscribers, most of whom used aliases; DeCarlo was one of the few who did not. Another person who used his real name, Larry Froistad, confessed to the list that he had killed his own daughter. DeCarlo's story begins with that revelation and quickly spins into a horrifying, captivating, often hilarious tale of moral responsibility, guilt, and hypocrisy.

The show doesn't start out well; DeCarlo seems ill at ease on stage, she trips over some of her lines, and some of her first few jokes fall flat. However, as the writer/performer gets further into the piece, she becomes more relaxed and makes a genuine connection with her audience. DeCarlo quotes at length from various e-mail postings and is particularly chilling when she stands absolutely still, delivering Larry's confession in a calm monotone. As one of only three people who contacted the police, she is uniquely positioned to tell the story.

There are a few gaps in her tale. For example, she is surprised by a front page story in The New York Times that outs her as one of the informants who first brought attention to the case -- yet the article in question actually quotes the writer/performer, indicating that she was interviewed for it. Despite such inconsistencies, Toasted is a riveting theatrical achievement that will linger in your memory long after the show is over.

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Do You Have Anything Closer?

When he was a boy, Lawrence Paone dreamed of becoming a writer. As many people do, however, he made a few compromises to get some job security. After 17 years of working in Broadway theater box offices, he now asks himself, "When did my alleged day job become my career?" Paone's solo play Do You Have Anything Closer? is a frequently amusing meditation on settling for less than what one desires.

Co-written with director Matthew Aibel, the show is made up of a succession of anecdotes that are sure to appeal to anyone who's ever worked in customer service. Not all of the stories have the sort of comic payoff that was most likely intended and some of them seem to have no point whatsoever; still, there's plenty of material here that's bound to provoke the laughter of recognition from almost every audience member.

Paone's wry, deadpan delivery is pleasant enough and yet the show lacks the depth it needs to make it something more than a light entertainment. The writer/performer keeps the audience at an emotional distance, undermining the story of his quest for satisfaction in his life and career.

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Allison McAtee and Janine Barrisin Julianne Caesar(Photo © Joy Jacobs)
Allison McAtee and Janine Barris
in Julianne Caesar
(Photo © Joy Jacobs)
Julianne Caesar

It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that Julianne Caesar is the worst play I've ever seen. Written by David Starkey and directed by James Duff, the production has no redeeming value. Although it purports to be a black comedy, the script is not at all funny. The performance isn't campy, although it makes a half-hearted effort to be so. There's a slim possibility that the material might have been entertaining in the right hands, but those hands do not belong to Duff; his production plods along at a glacially slow pace, abetted by some of the most superficial acting imaginable.

The plot revolves around an all-female production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at a girls' college. Julianne (Janine Barris) longs to play the part of Brutus but the director, Peter (James Andrew Walsh), casts Megan (Allison McAtee) in the role. This situation is complicated by the fact that Megan is sleeping with Peter and that Peter had had a previous affair with Julianne. Apparently, there's also a sexual history between the two women, but anyone looking for a complex, realistic portrayal of lesbians won't find it here.

The plot includes betrayal, revenge, and murder, yet the show manages to be completely boring. At least some of the cast had the decency to look embarrassed during the curtain call.

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A Shining Love

John Fremont is not an obvious choice of subject for a musical biography. The 19th-century trailblazer and one-time Presidential hopeful is not exactly a household name and is mostly familiar to historians and Civil War buffs. A Shining Love is not likely to provoke greater interest in the man or his illustrious career.

With book and lyrics by Greg Senf and music by Jeremy Rosen and Richard Sussman, the musical is thin on plot but heavy on exposition. "Do you want to tell me about it?" asks one character of another in one of several forced scenes that serve only to provide background information. There's no forward drive to the piece and little attempt to do more than fuzzily sketch the personalities of the major players.

The bulk of the action takes place in 1901, as Jessie Fremont (Beth Chiarelli) awaits a visit from President William McKinley (John Abate), wiling away the time by reminiscing about her late husband John (Greg Senf). There are flashback sequences aplenty as well as conversations with Jessie's daughter Lily (Amanda-Adair Brown), a sympathetic neighbor (Kristen Hammer), and a nosy reporter (Kevin T. Collins). However, it never becomes clear why the show's authors felt this story deserved musical treatment.

The music is far from memorable and some of the lyrics are excruciatingly bad. "You're a mean old mongrel mutt without a trace of giddy up," goes one line, while others contain such false rhymes as "prize"/"lying" and "endures"/"blurred." None of the performers demonstrate much acting talent but Collins does have a strong singing voice. Director George Wolf Reily is too constrained by the tiny size of the theater to do much more than have the actors stand still or walk in small circles. This makes the show even more lackluster, but even if more complex choreography were incoroporated, A Shining Love would still be a pretty dim affair.

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Moe Bertran in Love Scenes
Moe Bertran in Love Scenes
Love Scenes

Although David Pumo's MITF play is titled Love Scenes, it would be more accurate to call it Love Monologues. The solo piece is performed by the engaging Moe Bertran; he takes on the roles of six different gay men, each of whom delivers a speech on the theme of love.

The script is often quite funny but Pumo only rarely gets beneath the surface of his characters. The show starts out with a man attending his ex-boyfriend's wedding (to a woman); he confides to a friend that it was unlike him to fall in love with a closet case, yet the monologue doesn't go any deeper than that. Other monologues deal with a theater producer confronting his longtime lover's latest boy toy, a man recounting his coming-out process at a meeting of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and a young hustler describing the kinky S&M practices of his most recent sugar daddy.

Director Donna Jean Fogel strains believability by having Bertran do certain things that make no sense. In the first sequence, for example, the actor stands on top of a block and shouts his lines -- but there's no indication that anyone at the wedding hears him, whereas it seems likely under the circumstances that they'd be rushing over and trying to throw him out.

The final two monologues are the strongest. Bertran plays an older man who has been with his partner for 22 years; now that partner wants to have an open relationship. Bertran's quiet, measured tones reveal a multitude of emotions as he lays out an elegant argument about what would happen if the couple were to actually attempt this. Next comes another wedding, that of a drag queen named Felony Mayhem (a character also featured in Pumo's full-length play Auntie Mayhem). Bertran creates an emotionally grounded portrait that's both humorous and touching, bringing the show to an uplifting, satisfying conclusion.

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[For more on the Midtown International Theatre Festival, click here.]