Thursday, August 25, 2011

FringeNYC 2011: What the Sparrow Said

Kevin Mannering and Matthewl Michael Hurley in What the Sparrow Said.  Photo by Alona Fogel.
What the Sparrow Said by Danny Mitarotondo, produced by The Common Tongue and now playing at Teatro Latea as part of the 2011 Fringe Festival, is an outstanding example of what the Fringe Festival is supposed to be all about.  It is a wonderful example of a new playwright’s pushing the limits of his craft to produce a work that transcends traditional theatrical boundaries and that, notwithstanding its limitations, makes its audience sit up and take notice – if only to say “I was there when he first burst upon the scene.”  For there is little doubt in my mind that Mitarotondo is, indeed, a major new talent from whom we’re likely to be hearing much more in the years ahead.

What  the Sparrow Said doesn’t really break any major new ground in a substantive sense: it is simply a variation on the oft-told story of two brothers who meet after several years of estrangement at their mother’s deathbed.  But it does break new ground in form and structure: it is a non-linear, right-brained exposition of the relationships among a number of tangentially related characters which forces its audience to view it from a variety of perspectives (in much the way that Braque or Picasso may initially have engaged their audiences with their visual arts).

The play’s overarching theme is the fractional, fractal, fractious and refracted nature of human relationships – the degrees to which we all may be perceived as composites of those whom we may resemble in one way or another and the sense in which we filter our impressions of others through our recollections of still earlier encounters.  All six of the actors in this production were up to the tasks set before them – Brenda Currin as Hannah, Lila Dupree as Amelia, Matthew Michael Harley as Dan, Kevin Mannering as Blaze, Ruby Ruiz as Nursie, and, most especially, Heather Oakley as Cynthia – and the director, Jenna Worsham, elicited the very best from them.

One caveat: while I very much enjoyed this production, not everyone will.  If your tastes run more toward the theatrically traditional, including temporal linearity with plots and characters developing along reasonably predict able lines, this might not be the play for you.  But if, like me, you’re intrigued by theatrical risk-taking experiments, then this is one you might not want to miss.

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