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Glenda Frank

Two Poignant Plays by Mario Fratti

"Suicide Club" and "Three Sisters and a Priest," two plays by Mario Fratti.
Directed by Stephen Morrow
October 4 to 21, 2012
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Sundays at 3:00 PM
$12 general admission, $10 seniors and students
Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Runs 1:35.

"Suicide Club": under false pretenses, a mother (Maria Deasy, center) has joined a support group for survivors of family suicides. A visit by a fellow club member (Cheryl Freeman, left) on the woman and her son (Connor Moore, standing) leads to an unpredictable and surprising conclusion. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Mario Fratti, best know for his work on the musical “Nine,” has written over 70 plays, which has been produced in two dozen countries. His latest installation is a diptych at Theatre for the New City, one a comedy, one approaching tragedy. Both have strong and poignant moments.

“Suicide Club,” the comedy and the shorter of the plays, moves quickly, especially after the son grabs hold of the plot and changes the dynamic. The themes are loss and loneliness but as seen from the double perspectives of mother and son. Both still miss the husband who left. The mom (Maria Deasy) confronts her son (Connor Moore) at the breakfast table with typical complaints, but the son counters well. After all, he is living with her although they may not talk heart to heart very often. But her loneliness is as deep as a cenote. The eponymous club to which she belongs offers companionship to mothers whose sons have committed suicide.

Like the boy, we are shocked, probably mostly at her declaring her handsome son deceased. Her confession leads to a conversation about their lives and feeling. And then the doorbell rings. It is one of the mothers in the club (Cheryl Freeman) so the son has to hide. The mother comforts the woman until the son burst out of his room and makes a startling declaration, a declaration we can only applaud and a plot twist that is admirable.

“Three Sisters and a Priest” has a heartfelt theme but it goes on far too long, and the length tends to deaden the affect. Based on a 1999 papal declaration by John Paul II, the play examines the effect on three major contributors to the church. A family priest, a fund-raiser, has come to visit the wealthy sisters, all spinsters because their parents found none of their suitors worthy. One is thankful for this, one resents it, and the other has taken to her bed after reading a newspaper account of the popes’s recent comments in his Wednesday speech. John Paul has affirmed that Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are spiritual, not physical places. Heaven is not heavenward (no fluffy clouds) but the nearness to God. Hell is not a flames and sulphur but the absence of God.

Wealthy sisters, fascinated and confused by the Pope's words on heaven and hell, summon a priest to clarify them in "Three Sisters and a Priest" by Mario Fratti. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The sisters who were reared to a literal interpretation of doctrine are shocked. They cross-examine the priest (Mark Ethan Toporek), who also confesses -- for the church -- to a body of “mistakes” which he sometimes refers to as “crimes”: the Crusade, the Inquisition, turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, among them. (No mention was made of pedophilia.) The priest comforts the distraught sisters, who made decisions during their lifetime based on a belief in a physical Heaven and Hell, with the thought that virtue is its own reward and that to be a role model for the community is a blessing. One of the sisters isn’t buying it. And the one in the bedroom -- well, that’s the famous Fratti twist to the play.

Under the direction of long time Fratti colleague, Stephan Morrow, the production values -- set design by Mark Marcante, lighting by Alexander Bartenieff -- and the performances were fine. Connor Moore and Carol Tammen brought power, presence, and veritas to their roles.

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