The funeral of a dog is the catalyst for Dennis Flanagan's quietly affecting and absurdly funny new play Bella and the Pool Boy, at the 4th Street Theatre. It's what brings Will (played by Flanagan) back to his childhood home in Central New Jersey, where he comes face to face with the life he desperately wants to leave behind, but which he can never really escape.
Will reunites with mother Kathy (Dina Ann Comolli), sister Cindy (Gwynneth Benson), former best friend Calvin (Curran Connor), and ex-girlfriend Danielle (Megan Raye Manzi), falling into familiar patterns with each of them. At the same time, he seems determined to sabotage his familial ties, as well as endanger his relationship with current girlfriend Anna (Samantha Ivers).
Flanagan is certainly not afraid to show what a jerk Will can be, and yet he somehow manages to make the character consistently sympathetic. Connor, whose Calvin is the now-middle-aged pool boy of the play's title, starts out the show as a seemingly one-note character, but reveals layers in his portrayal as the production goes on.
The play takes a surreal turn when the dead dog's body turns up missing, and her spirit comes to address the audience. As Bella, Carrie Watt does a fine job in conveying a dog-like eagerness without overdoing it. Moreover, a pivotal scene in which a disguised Bella visits Will is charmingly performed and has the emotional heft that it requires.
-- Dan Bacalzo
The basic story involves a woman, Hannah (Brenda Currin), on her deathbed with her oldest son, Blaze (Kevin Mannering) at her side. Her other son, Dan (Matthew Michael Hurley) is en route across the country. A nurse, known only as "Nursie" (Ruby Ruiz), acts as a narrator but isn't much of a guide in terms of clarity.
Mitarotondo's dialogue is incisive and, as directed by Jenna Worsham, driven with a sense of immediacy. But the author writes as though he just pounded a case of energy drinks, taking off through the many corridors of his vivid imagination without remembering to check if anyone is following.
Early in the play, Blaze marvels at the light shining though the hospital window, speaking as though his words will evaporate if they aren't expelled immediately. He continues in this fashion as he talks to his Mom, Nursie, and a young woman, Amelia (Lila Dupree), whose husband is going to be sharing a room with Hannah. They have an instant connection that could be the spark of a whole play on it's own. In fact, it feels there are about five plays bursting the seams of Sparrow, and I can't help but think that Mitarotondo has more to say that would illuminate these fascinating people he's introduced to us.
-- Chris Kompanek
At the beginning of the play, the Sanyasi proclaims that people's concerns are trivial and that time is a prison; he removes himself from the din of everyday life so that he can be free and seek truth. As played by Evan Sanderson, the Sanyasi is full of the certainty of youth, confidently explaining his philosophy and offering his knowledge to those who seek it. There is wisdom in his words, but avoiding entanglement is easier said than done.
When a young girl (Monica Flanagan), a social outcast, comes to rely on the Sanyasi for companionship, he feels stifled and abandons her. Troubled by the incident, he starts to question his own beliefs and eventually comes to see the beauty of the world. However, he quickly realizes that the cost of attachment is the pain of loss.
The Sanyasi's struggle to maintain the integrity of his spiritual vision versus his desire to help someone in need is moving. And in the end, the play seems to say that detachment brings clarity to the mind, but attachment animates the heart.
-- Brooke Pierce
Grossman shares stories about the various freaks and geeks she's dated, which range from a man who liked to dress up like a chicken to an extremely endowed ex-porn star who gave her the massage of a lifetime. Several of her early tales are played strictly for laughs, and the writer/performer tends to push too hard to make the script seem funny.
Still, Grossman does have a penchant for physical comedy, and a sequence in which she describes the crush she had on her yoga teacher utilizes her impressive flexibility to delightfully comic effect. She also relaxes into the performance as it goes on, taking the time to actually connect to the audience as opposed to merely talking at them, which she does initially.
As the hour-long show progresses, Grossman also probes her own feelings more deeply, giving dimension to her unhappy love life and quest for Mr. Right. However, the characterization of her ex-boyfriends remain one-dimensional.
-- Dan Bacalzo