Like father like son in The Phillie Trilogy

The Phillie Trilogy
at the Fresh Fruit Festival XV
review by Robert Gottlieb


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Doug Devita’s The Phillie Trilogy, a flagship showing at this years Fresh Fruit festival, is a play concerned with fate. It asks whether humans constitute original material, or, alternatively, are we just a predictable sequel to preexisting content. Specifically, are we our parents? What about our own children, and our children’s children, on down the generational conga line…are they anything more than the sum of the good and bad decisions we make as parents?

The question presents itself in the form of Philip ‘Phillie’ McDougal, who we meet as a queer teen in a conservative Long Island neighborhood in the early 70s. Phillie’s parents, Pete and Sheila McDougal, love their gay son enough to push back against the societal forces trying to pigeonhole him, but not enough to wholly abandon their own prejudice. Flash forward 30-some years and Phillie is a failing writer considering whether to write an adult book, based on his successful slew of children’s books, which in turn were based on his real-life childhood. The impact of familial acceptance, rejection, love and revulsion comes to bear as Phillie wrestles with the decision of whether to allow his not-so-non-fictional characters to grow up.

Unfortunately, this ambitious concept is not allowed two crucial ingredients: space and time. Devita tries to fit four generations, spanning three-time periods, and five decades into Phillie’s one hour and forty-five-minute run time, and the character development cannot keep pace. A single crucial scene between Phillie and his father is tasked with introducing the senior McDougal, introducing their family dynamic, having Pete discover his son’s sexuality, and having Pete (nearly) come to terms with that sexuality. It’s an entire character arc that unfolds in under ten minutes.

Also, distractingly, director Dennis Corsi recasts anyone who had played a parent in the 1970s to be that person’s now-40-year-old offspring in the secondary period centering around the late 2000s. So David Sabella plays both Pete McDougal circa 1974 and Philip McDougal circa 2007. This decision becomes the focal point of a play that’s already obsessed with intergenerational connections. It puts the parent-child identity relationship so far at the forefront that it becomes difficult to pay attention to the actual play going on behind it. The audience finds themselves watching an idea instead of watching a work of art.

That’s a shame because Devita’s script is full of life when he gives himself enough time to really breath it into a character. Sheila McDougal is a gorgeous amalgam of motherly love and Queensborough conservatism. Teresa Kelsey plays the part wonderfully, with equal parts love, fear and exhaustion. The older Philip McDougal is a complex; beautiful character whose gravity pulls the play’s second half along. Sabella is excellent in the role and one gets the sense that he could play Phillie’s gin-soaked charisma in his sleep. The kids, specifically Maeve Press as Phillie’s best friend Barbie, are powerfully earnest and adorable. Elsewhere, the double casting leads to some uneven performances from some very talented actors. Sabella struggles when tasked with playing Phillie’s caring but homophobic father. As an independent casting decision, Sabella makes little sense in that role. Similarly, Carole Monfardini is excellent as Grace, perhaps my favorite character in the play, but cartoon-esque as her mother, Lina.

The Phillie Trilogy asks some important questions, particularly in this era of dissonance between different generations. But the play’s heavy-handed execution makes it unlikely to achieve emotional resonance. Devita is an undeniably talented writer with a knack for finding comedy in the commonplace. He’s capable of the profound. It’s too bad he casts too wide of a net to find it here.

All you need is love.

at the Midtown International Theatre Festival


Kevin Clancy wrote a powerful tome drenched in realism with “Difficult Transition.” Leading the charge in defense of the transsexual making a case suitable for all to understand. Not contrived, Clancy’s prose showed palpable pain.

We meet a “woman” no longer having to worry about meeting a guy because of how “man” made her feel about herself. At first “man” didn’t know her secret until the end of their first date. For some reason “man” still wanted to be with her. One day they both decided to get more serious and take it to the bedroom. Although “Man” knew about her secret he still freaks out and is now hesitant, but when “man” sees the hurt in “woman” his preconceived notions fade away. Bottom line, love is not sex.

Transition is at its core romantic. It made one feel like there is love everywhere no matter who you are. The characters are engaging and identifiable. Edward Maxwell and Mariana Genesio Pena performed with grace and power. Both “man” and “woman” were very passionate and faithful to the text. Bottom line, love is not sex. Modern thoughts in a romantic bow. I loved every bit of it.

He said, she said.

Rachel Rocano reviews The Diplomats at the Fresh Fruit Festival 

19905085_1394957060554209_4575018749620549295_nConsidering our now-immersed-in-politics world, one might imagine The Diplomats was going to be about an ambassador, in an America that deals with problems and tries to solve them by being understanding and empathizing.

The Diplomats was about a group of close friends, Carlos and Gary, having a reunion in their friend, Annie’s, apartment – two days before election night 2016. Carlos and Annie are still close but Annie seems to dislike Gary and doesn’t want him to come over. Throughout the show, the three friends have political disagreements and don’t understand each other’s perspectives – due to their ardent political allegiances. At the end, light at the end of the tunnel is implied.

Annie’s point of view is based on her personal lifestyle and background. Annie says that Carlos tries to hide the fact that he is Latino, and thinks because he has a rich white sugar daddy, he can get away from reality. Further, Annie is certain that Gary is voting for “him” because he said that he isn’t with “him or her” and she implies that if you aren’t with “her” you are obviously with “him.” Carlos, later in the play, confesses that he voted for “him.” Predictably this caused a plot-ending battle.

This play provided strong political commentary on a personal level but fell short in engaging it audience. We are in a time when verbal civil war is prevalent thus dampening the entertainment value of any project using it as its focus.


Telling an UNTOLD tale.

Wrda Hussain reviews UNTOLD at the Midtown International Theatre Festival

UNTOLDCarry Farrows’ production of Untold combines varied tales split into little arcs. Each arc expresses a different situation that women all over the world face. This production raises awareness about abuse and the tragedies faced by women. The first arc starts off with the actress, Gina Hughes, creating a video letter to her ex-boyfriend, Bryan, containing explicit language to express her feelings towards him. The second arc tells a story of an unhappily married women who regrets being with her husband and wishes for a “happier” life but fails to break the bond with him. The third act tells a story of a Swedish woman in a bar craving attention from men and wondering what is it about her that repels men. The fourth arc tells a rape story between a father and her daughter, her little daughter failing to recognize her fathers’ wrongdoing and creating this false illusion that it’s because her father loves her. The last and final act focuses on a teenagers’ will to wait around for her boyfriends’ text. The messages of these little arcs ultimately fall under the umbrella that expresses how women are treated and really gives the audience an insight about abuse they go through.

While Gina Hughes takes on multiple roles that convey a strong message to her audience (teenager, woman in a bar, married woman or little girl) her acting seemed unconvincing and awkward. The predictable humor didn’t help matters. The dialogue can’t be faulted but it was the delivery that didn’t measure up. Strong production values like realistic properties and excellent costuming made for an entertaining evening, just not an enthralling one. Credit should surely be given for tackling such subject matter.

The Importance of Place by Sue Bevan

A few words from Sue Bevan upon the opening of her new one-woman show

AnAudienAN AUDIENCE WITH SHURL written and directed by Sue Bevan; starring Sue Bevan. Internationally-touring 4* tragicomedy about loss and the search for meaning. Nominated for Outstanding Performance Award, Prague Fringe! (Solo Show)
Performance Schedule: Tues 7/25, 6:00pm; Fri 7/28, 7:00pm;
Sun 7/30, 2:45pm
Running Time: 60 minutes
Venue: Jewel Box Theater, 312 W. 36th Street.

Ms. Bevan has presented this stunning piece all over the world.
Now it’s up to you, NY, to make her feel welcome.
Natasha Dawsen, editor. 
‘Are you nervous?’ someone asked me last night about bringing my show over to New York? ‘No,’ I replied honestly. ‘I don’t tend to get nervous anymore before doing Shurl – just excited to be sharing it with people.’
A couple of hours ago I sat in the tiny black box theatre that is Midtown Festival’s Jewel Box. The technical rehearsal went well – efficient; lighting states swiftly sorted; cue-to-cue accomplished without a hitch. Twice. Tony Mann, the techie for the space, is easy to get along with, professional and sensitive to what’s needed to make An Audience With Shurl fly. (He’s even excited about seeing it in a couple of hours.) So there we were with a generous fifty minutes of tech time left over – fifty minutes in which I could do whatever seemed fit. I opted to let Tony go (although he still pottered somewhere out of sight and sound) and have the space to myself, to squeeze in a speed run of as much of the play as I had time for.
‘Lovely to see you here,” I greeted an imaginary audience, ‘but I nearly forgot you was coming! Memory, eh?’ Then on to the bit about everyone supposedly remembering exactly where they were the day JFK was shot. ‘I guess for the youngsters it’ll be the Twin Towers…’ It stops me dead in my tracks. Suddenly I am breathless – that kind of breathlessness that only comes with fighting back tears, suppressing the need to wail, preventing tears of grief from flowing like twin rivers about to burst their banks. And I have no idea at all where this came from. No idea whatsoever. But in that quiet moment, alone in that tiny theatre space just an arm’s throw from the site of the 9/11 tragedy, a wave of something way beyond myself swept through me, leaving me wondering how I will cope in just a couple of hours when I deliver that line. And what will its mention do to others sharing that space with me for that hour.
So should I change the reference? Should I leave the line out, or find another? I don’t believe so. I have a feeling that single line, that poignant reference for every New Yorker and for so many beyond the city’s bounds, I have a feeling it might bring me tonight to an emotional connection I’ve never yet reached with this piece – this piece about loss and search for meaning. And it would be a cop-out not to include it. Theatre can be such a wonderful, intimate space to connect with our feelings past and present, and to experience a community which is now sadly so rare in our lives. No, I think it would be wrong to take out this moment of connection to something beyond ourselves.
So I think again now about that question: am I nervous about tonight? Yes, I’m nervous. In truth I’m full of nerves. And that’s such a different experience from what I normally feel before performing An Audience With Shurl. But I’m not afraid. And that’s what matters. It makes me think of the lines in when Shirley Bassey takes little Shurl’s hands and tells her, ‘ Don’t be afraid. Hold my hand. And hold it tight. This path is a fine path to be taking. Don’t be afraid. I’m with you know. Come on, let’s go. We’ve got a journey to make. And we’re going to make it together. I’m here now. As long as you need me.’
I don’t know who was with me in that space today, but I know we’re doing this together.

نمایش عالی!

Turan Koyuncu reviews RAGHS at the Midtown International Theatre Festival 

ragsRaghs, directed by Pati Amoroso and written by Sohailla Mahjour, is a solo play that showed us insight into the Iranian culture.

The play started with the character of Sariana, jovial with her cousin … and love her life. The tension comes when her dearest friend volleys disapproving statements concerning relation and age. The story then takes us back to Iran where Sariana stands at the crossroads of love and friendship.

This solo act by Sohaillia Mahjour was exquisite. Sohaillia wrote a perfect role to convey her thoughts of being an Iranian teenager. Her animation and vocal quality gave us a truly realistic portrayal. Her humor helped enhance the innovative plot of a young woman torn between being in love and being a Muslim. A detail as simply waiting for her father to sleep to leave the house played into American youth values as much as the respect level a Muslim child must have. A universal connection.

Another clever detail was the inclusion of a scarf (symbolic) that become a blanket, a backpack, and of course, a hijab.

Production values such as lighting could use some more work along with sound cues. But that didn’t hurt the fine work done by Sohaillia.

The History of Love … in two plays

Wrda Hussain reviews

Set in a southern jail cell in the early 1940s, the relationship of two lesbian lovers, Anne and Hattie, are tested. W.Tre Davis’ production of Damn Fool conveys a message about acceptance. The production showcases Anna’s conflict with herself about her sexuality; bound by religion and her father, she unable to come forward and accept her identity.

Renika Williams plays Hattie, an editor of a radical black newspaper and Lisa Kitchens plays as Anna, a southern church girl. Renika Williams and Lisa Kitchens displayed great talent with a powerful use of voice. The chemistry between these two could be felt throughout the play. It helped that they had excellent writing – deep plot and well-fleshed characters – to work from as well. Production values – especially the costumes were effective. Annas’ long blonde hair and flowy floral dress amplified her “southerner” mystique and served as fine counterpoint to Hatties’ business casual. Damn Fool displays something that much of the Fresh Fruit Festival programs possess in abundance: the tribulations experienced by today’s LGBT community can be seen in all of us.

The Wild Project is a stunning space and a great venue for off-off Broadway. Couple that with the Fresh Fruit staff and the high production values, it was a great experience.


It was these high production values that made Village Orpheus produced by Mickey Bolmer, a powerful addition to the duo of plays. It told the story about O’Hara and his lover, Joe, as he takes on the role of Orpheus, the Greek prophet, bringing prosperity and happiness to Greenwich Village throughout the 50s and 60s. The storytelling was soaring and surreal. (of course, Greenwich Village tales would be “artsy”) with top-notch visuals that served as excellent spice to the play. Beautiful costumes, masterful sound and projections gave us an artistic showing of great power.

Fresh Fruit Fest births “All Mixed Up”


Rachel Rocano reviews

All Mixed Up focuses on testing the abilities of an interracial lesbian couple… or maybe just the pregnant one.

It seems that love and trust is not as easy as it seems … for them. The premise concerns the couple initial decision to have a mixed-race baby but when it is revealed that the donor is one person and not a mystery …

The script was both funny and poignant with messages evident and for the coffee shop discussion later. The ensemble cast was superb: Habi Coulibaly as the pregnant Beth; Ana Marie Calise as her partner, Carrie; with Jordan Fassina, as Ada; and Andre Ozim, as Daniel. The coffee shop discussion will include Beth’s over-dramatized delivery – too much? Not if you’re pregnant. It’s a challenge to play “hormones.”

This really enjoyable piece gave us yet another avenue to explore when looking at 21st century relationships, and no better place than the Fresh Fruit Festival. If something doesn’t go your way, accept, if you really love your partner.

Fresh Fruit Fare

Jofranmir Sierra at the Fresh Fruit Festival

THE HISTORY OF LOVE: One-Acts with a Historical Bent
Damn Fool – enthralling
Village Orpheus – confusing

… and Wretch was brusk

19875250_704070479792225_2431601371520836963_n“Damn fool” was a very inspirational play that portrays not only homosexual love but also biracial love between two women locked up in jail cell in a non-modern society. As the two thinks of solutions on how to get out of the mess, the African-American girl informs us of white supremacy. Although the two have been equal in their wronging – according to dubious societal norms – a black lesbian would get in far more trouble that a white girl whose father is a Sherriff. The white girl has lessons to learn about truth and how far one must go for love.  The strength of Hattie and Anna’s relationship was evident in script and performance. The depth of their performance opened a door to understanding felt by the audience. The hopeless romantic in me almost wanted them to be lovers. Starting off, Anna’s character seemed to be so frail and fragile with the way she panicked and denied her love for Hattie. She was ashamed but then took a wild turn when she revealed her true self and stood up to her big sister who’s been trying to convince her to be something that she isn’t, and her father (the sheriff) who is stereotypically strict. She went from fear to fierce which was very empowering to see. Hattie, on the other hand, was a free, opinionated black girl who knew exactly what the results of her dalliance would be. Throughout the play it took a toll on her to put her pride aside and seek help from lover.

Really excellent piece. I enjoyed it, learned from it, and made me think. Mission Accomplished. I’d see it again … and maybe again … and …


Wretch and Village Orpheus however, tried too hard to be topical.

14591680_1913355322257342_1771555358195915790_nWretch concerned a girl contemplating suicide. This parable about bullying and body-shaming didn’t hit its mark. Suicide and the reasons for it must be handled delicately and Wretch was too heavy handed and trying too hard. The potential was huge but the heavy-handed theatricality seemed to hurt the topic more than help. Her pill-popping during a musical number was reminiscent of Mabel’s Tap Your Troubles Away in Mack and Mabel, which also didn’t seem to connect the topic to the stage craft.  Sound issues didn’t help matters either.

4x6black2FINALshadow2-1024x682Village Orpheus is based on homosexual lovers and artists. The cast was passionate, committed and enthusiastic, but the meaning was confusing and felt forced. The strange staging and character choices – while fascinating – seemed to go nowhere. Sitting back, the production was humorous at times, but I just didn’t get it.


Review by Altonya Longmore

See You At The Funeral featuring Tova Katz, directed by Tricia Broukis


A solo musical comedy about Dina, a gay woman with an answer to everything… doesn’t mean they’re true or valid … but she DOES have an answer. At first, you might consider her aggressive – even obnoxious – but beneath her layers, she had been hurt much like everyone else in this world.

It was that hurt that touched the souls of the entire crowd – even me.

Dina’s voice was so beautiful that one could not help but shed tears. I could feel them build up in my eyes. Her voice was absolutely captivating. A voice like hers made us feel connected to her in a unique way. It was as if she was our guardian angel singing away our sorrows. Her lyrics told a story that made me forget my troubles. And I wasn’t alone.

This lively piece is more than a must-see … it’s a must feel.

See You At The Funeral featuring Tova Katz is part of the 15th Anniversary season of the Fresh Fruit Festival