By Ron Cohen
The bickering, volatile folks inhabiting Countdown aren’t particularly pleasant, but through most of Vincent Caruso’s play they’re terrifically entertaining.
Nicky is a lothario bartender in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, with lots to get emotional about: His beloved mother has just died; his mistress is becoming increasingly demanding; his wife, Rosie, is more and more resentful; and his father, called Pop, is drowning his grief in liquor.
Caruso puts them in a script vibrating with wackiness and surprises, which are heightened by the characters’ recognizable reality. Nicky is no dashing hero, but a hapless boob who whines as much as he yells. Rosie is not a wife suffering in silence; she loves her Nicky and the plot turns on her plan to leave him, hoping it will cause him to quit philandering and beg her to come back. The title refers to the lead-up to Rosie’s plan, but plot is secondary to the antics of the characters; the play could well be called Infidelity Italian-American Style.
Even Pop’s sexual appetite strikes unexpectedly. At one point he makes vigorous advances on his daughter-in-law, who repels them just as vigorously. The scene is a wonderful example of the uninhibited performances that bring the script to life under Jerry Mond’s direction.
The actors seem born to their roles. John Leone paints Nicky with a broad palette of colors. Jordana Oberman as Rosie mixes tenderness with a gruffness reminiscent of a young Rosie O’Donnell. Peter J. Coriaty makes all of Pop’s quicksilver moods believable, and Allison Lane does the same as Nicky’s mistress. Delightfully completing the ensemble is Angela Della Ventura as Pop’s new girlfriend, a widow with a weakness for lotto and Scotch.
The play falters toward the end with a prolonged father-son confrontation that dredges up old grievances, in an apparent and formulaic attempt to move things into Arthur Miller land. It’s a downer finish for an otherwise remarkable screwball comedy with grit.
Vincent Caruso’s play Countdown seems to be straddling two universes. (Well, three, if you count Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where the high-revved, dysfunctional antics of this contemporary story take place.) One of the universes contains caricatures that perform and interact with one another in superficial, sketch comedy-like rhythms. The other, more evolved parallel universe contains the same cast of characters, but here they are fully-realized, three dimensional people who you can care about.
Countdown begins in a hospital hallway where we meet the main character, Nicky (John Leone), berating the hospital staff to take better care of his dying mother. It’s clear from the get-go that Nicky is the kind of bombastic, egocentric guy who seems to like to hear himself yell no matter what the circumstances. Rosie (Jordana Oberman), Nicky’s petulant wife, soon informs Nicky that his mother has, in fact, just died. It is this event that starts the clock ticking, setting off an avalanche of discoveries and accusations in the scenes that follow, resolving at an awkward and hilarious Christmas Eve gathering.
The landslide begins when Nicky’s misguided father, Pop (Peter J. Coriaty), while pining for his dead wife, also tries to jump Rosie’s bones. This unsettling incident, along with Rosie’s suspicion of Nicky’s infidelities, drives Rosie back to drinking. At the same time, Nicky is indeed cheating on Rosie with Sandy (Allison Lane), the neighborhood vixen, who he meets up with for a tryst only six hours after his mother’s death. While Nicky is M.I.A., Rosie introduces Pop to recent widow and potential love interest, Toni (Angela Della Ventura), in order to get Nicky riled up and Pop off her back—literally.
Countdown works best when grounded in the three-dimensional universe. Lane and Della Ventura succeed the most in sustaining captivating and believable performances throughout the play and achieve the right humorous pitch. Lane lights up her limited time on stage with a smart and spirited flair, and Della Ventura is particularly delightful, evoking belly laughs at Toni’s delicious quirks one moment, while tugging at our heartstrings the next. Other highlights include scenes when the writing and directing allow the characters to just interact with one another simply and honestly, bringing out the authenticity of both the drama and humor. In an engaging scene between Nicky and Pop early in the play, we immediately understand through their behavior that theirs is a very complex relationship weighed down by years of hurt and regret. Nicky’s younger, better-loved brother, Enzo drowned mysteriously only six years before, which has thrown a wrench into the relationship. The dynamics between Nicky and Pop are the most compelling in the play, and are probably worth further exploration.
Reviewed by Victor Gluck
Vincent Caruso’s new play, “Leftovers,” is an engrossing drama about the sex lives of three promiscuous men. Directed by James Martinelli, the cast of Clay Drinko, Jack McGowan, and Frank Stasio play well-delineated characters — if very poor role models — in a sort of Manhattan version of “Queer as Folk.” Using the tiny space of Where Eagles Dare Theatre, Martinelli is still able to make transitions between several locations swiftly and convincingly with a minimum of props. Elliot Lanes’ sound design and Tyler Maulsby’s lighting help create the minimal set changes.
At a club, Eric, a 30-something, sexually active gay policeman, meets 40-something Michael, a nurse, and 20-something Joe, a salesman at Barneys, and takes them home for a threesome. Although they keep it a secret from Eric, Michael and Joe have been cruising buddies at sex clubs for two years. When both Michael and Joe fall for Eric, with neither revealing it to the other, the stage is set for a series of power games that culminates in a nasty game of strip poker. The title refers to Joe’s fear that if they become HIV-positive, they will become the “leftovers” that no one wants.
Although the men’s careers are never made believable, the actors still create credible characters. Drinko’s Joe, conflicted in feeling guilty over his sexual adventures yet not wanting to miss out on life, reveals vulnerability. Stasio as Michael is excellent at portraying the aging gay man whose sexual compulsion hides the fear of never finding the perfect mate. McGowan makes Eric’s gamesmanship much more mysterious, but his power to manipulate and corrupt is undeniable. For a change, the use of nudity is both necessary to the plot and maturely handled.