JUICY OFF-BROADWAY: Big Apple Plays include classic COULDA WOULDA SHOULDA

THREE BITES OF THE APPLE :  AS JUICY AS OFF-BROADWAY GETS

by Sharon Shahar

When it comes to theater, the Big Apple is the pick of the crop.  And when it comes to Off Off Broadway theater , THREE BITES OF THE APPLE, at American Theater of Actors (ATA) on west 54th street in Manhattan, was a sweet selection.  Written by the renowned published playwright and essayist, Robert Liebowitz, this revival of three of his one-act plays depicted the plight of the beleaguered  New Yorker (Liebowitz was a weary, frustrated cab driver when he reached for his pen) from the 1980’s through the early 21st century.

But of all three “bites”, it is one in particular that is the most satisfying. “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” the final one-act in this tantalizing trilogy.

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It is the story of one degenerate gambler Allie Neiterman (a character based loosely on Liebowitz’s own father) played by TJ Jenkins.  Mr. Jenkin’s grasp of the desperate loser’s struggle to pathetically rise above his impending downward spiral by making light of its gravity is compelling.

It is the classic demeanor of the addict in denial and the others in this cast of 40-somethings (and one outstanding 20-something) each bring their own unique approach to their characters. Anthony Gallo as the guy in charge of the social club where the action takes place is a natural as the low-life gambler who all but basks in the glow of the underboss.

Tommy Sturges (Irving Landau) brings “unlikable” to new heights in his attempt to play hero to the floundering Allie, and Ted Montuori is nothing short of brilliant as Bobo, the half-wit sidekick to the domineering Neiterman.

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But it is Jay Michaels’ performance as the mob boss Barney  Cutler that brings the action of the play to a riveting standstill when he enters the stage as the grim reaper.  It is only then that the audience really understands the magnitude of the betting game – not always a harmless bit of fun placing two bucks on the long shot, but more often a game of life and death with high-stakes loan sharks.

Allan Smithee directs with an attention to detail that left this humble reviewer knowing more about off-track betting than a seasoned gambler could teach her in a lifetime.

“Coulda Woulda Shouda” is presented with a depth and sense of reality that is clearly Broadway caliber.  The set and staging are professionally executed; the sound and lighting are perfectly suited to the 50- seat theater.

All in all, Mssrs. Liebowitz and Smithee have produced a play that is a powerhouse of poignancy, pity and pathos for the Off Off Broadway stage.  This production of “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” hits a high note in today’s Off Off Broadway repertory – certainly something any theater aficionado would want to sink his teeth into.

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