“White Guy on the Bus” is a Riveting Piece of Theater

Robert Cuccioli in ‘WHITE GUY ON THE BUS.’ Photo by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.

A Review of “White Guy on the Bus”

WHITE GUY ON THE BUS  is a play that examines several aspects of how races regard each other in America. Written by playwright Bruce Graham, this production is directed by Bud Martin and produced by Delaware Theatre Company. The show will run at 59E59 Theaters until Sunday, April 16.

The play opens with Ralph, a wealthy white business man, standing alone onstage. He is introduced as a numbers man as stock symbols and daily market activity swirls on a strongly lighted stage covering the character and everything around him. The fact that he is a numbers person is mentioned several times throughout the play as if to solidify the idea that he is a stable, sensible man. This is a man who would carefully assess any situation to come up with the right moves. His character does that continuously through the play but with different stakes each time. What he ends up doing with power and money might be looked upon as so wrong; yet he calmly justifies it.

L-R: Susan McKey and Robert Cuccioli -Photo by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.

As the lighting changes, a setting in an outdoor home garden on the left side of the stage becomes the site of action where Ralph and his wife, Roz, meet to discuss their day. She is a longtime, very dedicated school teacher in a poor, ghetto school in a black section of Philadelphia where she is the only white teacher. Ralph wants to retire, sell their lovely home in the safe suburbs and maybe become an artist. Roz is not ready for that kind of life. She has plans to never stop doing the work she does because she loves what she does. Ralph is supportive of her and wants to come to an event where she might become Teacher of the Year. But she does not allow it and sets out on her own as he goes back to his lucrative business.

L-R: Susan McKey, Jessica Bedford, Robert Cuccioli and Jonathan Silver – Photo by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.

Next entering the garden is Christopher and his soon to become wife, Molly. Christopher has taken after Roz with wanting to teach but he is aiming at the college level. He is in process with his dissertation which is intent on examining how blacks are being recruited for commercials through advertising agencies. He is enthusiastic about his work and feels he is on the right track to expose injustices. The four have a lively discussion where Roz talks about her work with her students. She is a crusader in the fight for quality education for her students and Molly’s questions and remarks to her are fascinating to listen to. What we start to see emerging here is a lack of understanding of what different classes in society deal with. Although Roz tries to explain her points, she comes across somewhat as a do-gooder and Molly comes through as an outsider causing tension between the two.

L-R: Robert Cuccioli and Danielle Leneé – Photo by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.

Finally, the right side of the stage gets used as Ralph enters a bus and takes a seat next to a black woman, Shatique, who is dressed in hospital scrubs with books opened on her lap. They begin a conversation that moves along through several different scenes. Even before Shatique asks Ralph  why is taking public transportation, an astute playgoer will be wondering the same thing. And that becomes the key to why the white guy is on the bus and the unfolding of the entire story.

To tell that part of the plot would not be right for anyone going to see this play because it is intense when it unfolds. Suffice it to say that the character Ralph takes matters into his own hands and tries to get justice for something terrible that has happened. Shatique becomes one of the victims in the workout of his plan. Playwright Graham has constructed a story that not only brings out racial divides but also how money can be such a powerful force, that it crosses color lines. This is not a play about using money for uniting the races, it is a character study of how each regards the other but in the end, money for these characters wins out.

L-R: Robert Cuccioli and Danielle Leneé -Photo by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.

Robert Cuccioli stars as Ralph. Mr. Cuccioli sets this play on fire with his powerful acting. He easily moves between the good and bad aspects of the character’s personality showing the audience how it is all possible. Danielle Leneé plays Shatique, who is a mother of a son she only gets to see once a week. She has dreams of eventually buying a house in a new neighborhood. Ms. Leneé does a remarkable job of showing both sides of this character who struggles with what is eventually offered to her. The scenes with these two characters are the most intense in the show.

Some strong dialog that brings out problems between the races is between Roz, played by Susan McKey and Molly, played by Jessica Bedford. McKey does a fine job creating a character who is strong and believable but at times a bit hard to take as she tangles with  Molly. Bedford tackles a difficult role very well as Molly who starts out striving to be hip with the thinking of today, but eventually falls back to what she knows is comfortable when she is expecting a child. The evolution of Christopher is well delivered by Jonathan Silver. We see him deal with his own discrimination situation and then easily move out of the field of education into his Ralph’s world of finance and big money.

Dealing with racial and class issues that are presented in WHITE GUY ON THE BUS is not easy to do. If you are looking for a light evening of theater, this might not be the right pick. However, the value it brings to the stage, especially at this time in history, makes it well worth going to see. Plan on going out for a cocktail or dessert afterwards because you will have a great deal to discuss.

About the Show:

Running Time: 1 hr. 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

Location: 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues), New York City

Performances: Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM through Sunday, April 16.

Contact for Info and Tickets: Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.


“Unfaithfully Yours” Examines Open Marriage

Photo: Yours Unfaithfully By Miles Malleson Directed by Jonathan Bank Cast Todd Cerveris Elisabeth Gray John Hutton Mikaela Izquierdo Max von Essen – Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

The concept of open marriage invites a variety of images. At times, people tend to think of it as a modern day happening. However, it is an interesting theme that has been explored for mnay decades in theater. The current offering from the Mint Theater Company is about that very subject. Yours Unfaithfully is a slight departure from the plays usually performed by the Mint in that it is a play that was published in 1933 but never produced. Thus, Mint is providing a belated World Premiere. Yours Unfaithfully was written by Miles Malleson who prescribed to the open marriage concept in his own personal life. One can listen to the dialog in the play and wonder how much of it were the thoughts he had and how much was otherwise written. This production is directed by Jonathan Bank and it stars 2015 Tony and Drama Desk Award nominee, Max von Essen, Todd Cerveris, Mikaela Izquierdo, Elisabeth Gray, and Stephen Schnetzer. It will play through February 18, 2017 at the Beckett Theatre.

Yours Unfaithfully focuses on a couple who have both consented to live in an open marriage arrangement. Stephen, a writer, and Ann, the director of a school, have both had extramarital affairs during their eight-year marriage although when we meet them at the beginning of the play, we learn that it has been quite awhile since either one had another lover. Their discussions about the subject are free flowing and without emotional involvement; in fact, one gets the impression that they consider it a necessary ingredient to having a happy, long-time marriage. in Act I, Ann suggests to Stephen that perhaps the reason for his current writer’s block is because he is not stimulated enough and that spending time with their friend, Dianna, whose own husband had recently passed away could bring a new energy into his life.

Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

The opportunity arises for Stephen to see if Dianna would be interested in pursuing a relationship. There is a good sense of intimacy created in this scene where Stephen begins his seduction. She is definitely interested and so they begin an affair that has the wife’s blessing. In fact, Ann is somewhat relieved at first that Stephen has another interest in his life thus freeing her to do more of the work she wants to do. It all seems pretty seamless until Stephen’s father, a clergyman comes for a visit. His discussion and presence with his son provide that more traditional look at marriage as he says “There is something in marriage beyond a deep spiritual union by a complete loyalty to each other.” It has some impact on Stephen since he was raised with those beliefs, but not enough to cause him to end the affair.

As the play continues, Stephen becomes more enthralled with his life and it is due to the time he spends with his lover. However, as time goes on, Ann realizes she is jealous of their relationship. She speaks with Allan, her own former lover about her feelings. She is depressed with jealousy as Stephen prepares for a little vacation with Dianna in Paris. And another strange thing occurs during that trip: he realizes he has fallen back in love with his wife. It all sounds good, just like everyone will live happily ever after. But happily for the audience, there are still twists and turns and a rather surprising turn of events orchestrated by Ann at the end.

Not only does this play use well-developed conversational dialog to present its points, it also has a cast completely immersed into their roles who are positively outstanding to watch. Mr. von Essen is the picture of refinement and masculinity all roled into one fine presentation. It is no wonder that both female characters in the play would want to be with Stephen. Elisabeth Gray playing Ann has a style and grace onstage that makes it difficult for an audience member to take their eyes off of her. Todd Cerveris plays Allan with a quiet presence yet one that provides a definite comfort to his friends. Mikaela Izquierdo has a smaller part but her character is interesting to watch as she grows and flowers from the love she has found. Finally, the principled clergyman played by Stephen Schnetzer gives the play the more traditional touch of morality needed to allow the other actions to contrast and allow us to decide where we stand on the idea of open marriage. Unfaithfully Yours is well worth going to see.

About the Show:

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes with 2 intermissions (one is 10 minutes the second is 15 minutes)

Location: The Beckett Theatre at Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street between 9th and Dyer Avenues)

Tuesdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and afternoon performances on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Contact for Info and Tickets: Tickets can be purchased online at Telecharge.com, by phone at 212/239-6200 or in person at the Theatre Row Box Office. For more information, visit minttheater.org.

Suggested Audience: Adults due to subject matter

‘ELEEMOSYNARY’ A Journey Between Generations

Playing through Oct. 29, 2016 in New York City
Playing through Oct. 29, 2016 in New York City

The word eleemosynary is not one that usually pops up in every day conversation. Saying it is one thing, but being able to spell it is quite another.  Eleemosynary, is a favorite word of Echo, a young girl in the play of the same name which is currently running now through Oct. 29, 2016 at the John DeSotelle Studio NuBox Theater. Written by Lee Blessing, the play is an intense look at the relationships between three generations of women.  It features a well-developed storyline and superb acting. All of this allows the audience to experience the journey that the three women are on as well as speaking directly to the emotions we all carry with us from our own life experiences.

ELEEMOSYNARY was first performed in 1985 in Minneapolis. Since then it has been performed in a variety of locations and theaters including a stop at Manhattan Theater Club. This version is directed by Alexandra Scordato, and it features a trio of female actors who give themselves over completely to their characters.  The story is told through flashback scenes that intertwine with the actual time in which the play takes place.

Dorothea is a woman who had ideas about how she wanted to live her life that conflicted with the accepted norms for women of the time. After high school, she dreamed of going on to college. But she grew up in a time when women were supposed to marry as soon as possible and that is what awaits Dorothea. As a result, she feels lost until one day when she learns what the word “eccentric” means. She is so taken with that word that she adopts it to describe herself. And she does many things to live up to it including the way she raises her daughter, Artie. One very memorable scene shows Dorothea trying to get Artie to fly. Artie is wearing a set of wire and mesh wings and with her mother’s encouragement, is being told to go to a high ledge and jump off and fly. Mom tells her to believe she can fly and she will. The common sense that Artie has conflicts with her mother’s request and she wisely does not jump.

These types of conflicts occur throughout their lives resulting in communication breaking down. Always at the base is the expectation to be extraordinary particularly as articulated by Dorothea. Artie runs away to live her own life several different times. She graduates college, goes to graduate school, and eventually devotes her career to research which does impress mother Dorothea but that point is never really made clear to Artie until much later. She also marries and has a child who goes to live with her grandmother, Dorothea.

In many ways, the child, Echo, has some of the best characteristics of her mother and grandmother. She is very smart and she excels at spelling so much that she becomes a national champion. And yes the word “Eleemosynary” is key in the contest. However, even more important than her being smart, Echo understands both of the women in her life and she is able to communicate with them both. She becomes the bridge between Dorothea and Artie so that eventually, a form of forgiveness arrives to soothe some of the feelings of conflict.

The intensity of the journey to reach this bridging of the communication provides an audience with opportunities to see three women performing their roles in a manner that creates and shapes characters who are hard to forget. Marina Barry creates Dorothea in a high energy, enthusiastic format. Her Dorothea is lovely when she is with Echo and over the top in terms of having sense when dealing with Artie. She succeeds in creating the interfering mother who you cannot stand to be around. Zoe Van Tieghem plays Echo with a calm, self-assured manner needed to convince the audience that she can bridge the gap between her mother and grandmother. The character of Echo is strong and she has the determination and perseverance to make it happen. Playing what might be the most challenging role of the show is Shana Wiersum as Artie. She portrays Artie as a woman who does what she needs to do in order to stay calm and centered. Doing this is not easy for the character and it causes her to have to cut off contact with her mother and at one point Echo too. It’s hard to tell what Artie is thinking or feeling at times because Ms. Wiersum does a fine job in playing the character holding back emotion and not allowing things to come to her that will hurt her as she has been in the past.

For people who want to see a good drama about family conflicts, this is a good choice to go to see. Unless the run is extended, it will close this weekend, on Oct. 29.

Run Time: 95 minutes (approx)

Written by: Lee Blessing

Director: Alexandra Scordato

Location: John DeSotelle Studio, NuBox Theater, 300 W. 43rd Street, New York City

Performances: October 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29 at 7:30 p.m. and a 2:00 p.m. matinee on October 29

Contact for Info and Tickets: Wind River Productions