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Katie Firth in Finally
It earned him an award for Excellence in Playwriting at the 2000 New York Fringe Festival, and now Stephen Belber's Finally finally gets a follow-up run in NYC at the Blue Heron Theater. As before, the one-person show is presented in a little black box theater, and though it deserves to be seen by a larger audience, this seems an appropriately claustrophobic space for such an intense, wrenching piece.

Before Finally debuted at the Fringe, Belber had achieved critical acclaim for his work on The Laramie Project; since then, his Tape has had a healthy run in New York and been made into a film with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. As intimate as Tape but written more in the confessional mode of Laramie, Finally is a series of four monologues given by four different characters. Actress Katie Firth literally steps into the shoes of these people, recounting from their differing perspectives the murder of a semi-pro football coach and a handful of key events that precipitated the incident.

Those involved include a football player, his wife, the coach himself, and a surprising fourth character. We learn about the murder early on, so Belber uses the rest of the piece to deconstruct that event and then move backwards to two other moments in time: the football player's first date with his soon-to-be-wife and a terrible day in the lives of the wife (at age nine), her father, and the family dog. Though Belber occasionally allows his dark sense of humor to show through the characters' remembrances, the recurring theme in this piece is one of violence. For these people, love can be a bloody thing.

Equating love with pain is not new, but Belber's story, especially as told by the excellent Firth, is visceral and moving. His carefully drawn characters are self-assured, honest, and strangely content; what is left for them is to go back and figure out how they got where they are. And so Belber deftly peels away each layer of the tale, getting closer and closer to the heart of the matter. In the end, we find that the unhappy characters have actually come to find solace in the brutality of love. Their acceptance of that fact is uncomfortably real.


[Ed. Note: Finally is playing in repertory at the Blue Heron with another, very different one-person show: Dave Mowers' Mother of the Bride, a comic recollection of the weddings of Mower's boyfriend's adult daughters.]