NEW YORK—Six plays, running a total of 70 minutes, make up “More of Our Parts,” showing various aspects of disability for a disparate group of people. Presented by the company Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB), the barriers prove to be those presented by other people—the able-bodied—rather than the better-known physical barriers of stairs, boarding buses, and the like.
The company uses both able-bodied and disabled performers. Included in the roster of playwrights are such luminaries as A.R. Gurney and Neil LaBute.
In Gurney’s “The Interview,” directed by artistic director Ike Schambelan, Ken (Stephen Drabicki) horrifies his father Howard (Nicholas Viselli) by informing the older man that he deliberately removed his hearing aid for his college admission interview. Ken didn’t want the admissions officer to think of him as “a special case.” (All was not lost, however, for it came out that the officer knew of Ken’s deafness all along.)
In Bruce Graham’s “The Ahhh Factor,” a film director (Warren Kelley) expresses concern to the screenwriter (Jonathan Todd Ross) that the latter wants to present a provocative scene starring a deaf actress. The director would have no qualms, however, were the actress a hearing person. It’s revealed that the director is a bigot.
Along the way, mention is made of noted African-American actress Hattie McDaniel and Harold Russell, a World War II veteran who lost both hands in the war, then went on to win an Academy Award for his performance in “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Of course, Ms. McDaniel was not disabled, just “different.” Breezily directed by Russell Treyz.
Jeffrey Sweet’s “A Little Family Time,” directed by Patricia Birch, is nicely ironic and emotionally painful. Here, a distinguished writer and humanitarian, Eli (well played by Shawn Elliott), is in discussion with his fiancée Annette (Donna Bullock) about his forthcoming human rights speech when an unexpected visitor rocks his world.
A young wheelchair-bound woman, Nell (Blair Wing), ushers in Eli’s son Lewis (Joshua Eber), whom Eli has long neglected. Lewis has Down syndrome, and Annette has not known of the young man’s existence. We’re left hanging—and so is Eli.
Furthermore, according to notes from playwright Sweet, the play is based on a true situation.
Bekah Brunstetter’s “After Breakfast, Maybe,” directed by Christina Roussos, shows a mother, Diane (Melanie Boland), with her wheelchair-bound daughter, Marcy (Shannon DeVido). There’s a generational gap here in more than one sense. Although the able-bodied mom wants the best for her daughter (meaning a simple, quiet little life), the dynamic Marcy wants to take over the world. Marcy is jumping out of her skin with frustration, and it seems that the two will never be able to bridge the gap of misunderstanding.
In Neil LaBute’s “The Wager,” LaBute’s noted ruthlessness is portrayed as Homeless Dude in a wheelchair (Shawn Randall) tries to hit up Guy (Nicholas Viselli) for a hand-out. Guy suddenly makes a wager—if Dude can guess which hand holds the money, he can have it; otherwise Guy gets to sock him. Tension and violence build, with Guy’s frightened girlfriend Gal (attractive Tiffan Borelli) looking on in horror. Not to worry. There’s an unexpected twist that mitigates the brutality. Ike Schambelan directed.
In Samuel D. Hunter’s “Geese,” directed by Christopher Burris, Ben (David Marcus), a Parks Department employee, is assigned to capture geese grazing in the park. Because there has been an overpopulation of the birds, who represent a hazard to air travel, the captured creatures will be exterminated. Gentle wheelchair-bound Melanie (the excellent Shannon DeVido), with the aid of various passers-by, endeavors to persuade Ben to desist from this onerous task. There are some nice interactions.
All told, there’s a mix of variety in the plays and a lot of ideas to mull upon. One looks forward to the next batch of TBTB presentations.
“More of Our Parts”
Harold Clurman Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Closed July 1
Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts newsletter. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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