entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Christiana Pepin
Lighting Design by Andres Puigbo
Costume Design by Roseanne Hogan (Zoo Story)
& Kathy Jeandreau (Krapp's Last Tape)
Stage Manager Michele Keith
I've just been to the North End Union, and I'm going to tell you a story. Then I'll tell you why I have a drink in my hand. But first I want you to know what makes someone like me walk under the the Expressway from Haymarket station and get lost around Polcari's looking for Parminter Street, which is the one street, naturally, with no sign on its corner. I go because I'm told The New Neighborhood Theatre is doing plays. I like plays, which you know already.
Well, it's a new theater all right, smelling of new paint, and the real seats haven't arrived yet -- even though The Neighborhood Playhouse was giving performances at 20 Parminter Street in 1895. But the plays I saw were wonderful.
On stage was a television, a camcorder setup, a desk, and a regal chair, and once the lights came up there was also Frank Annese performing Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape" in which a 69-year-old plays and talks about and to a tape the 39-year-old Krapp made, reflecting on his life so far, his rememberances, the decision he thinks he's made to renounce his dreams and illusions, and one memorable moment with a girl in a rowboat.
The original, of course, was written for an audio tape- recorder, but Annese managed, using video-tape, to capture the thirty-year gap between his two personae in bitingly immediate terms. The young, cigar-puffing, wine-sipping Krapp seems so emptily world-weary compared to the creak-kneed banana-chomping old Krapp swilling two liters of the stuff straight from the bottle. Those points when the older fast-forwards through his younger self swiftly and silently pontificating about "life!" to find one nugget of remembered bliss --- well, you'd have to see it to understand how it feels to see it. Theater is like that.
And then there was a break, and since I didn't perambulate, I watched a technician roll up the eight lengths of black drapery that had made Krapp's cramped little apartment to reveal a magnificent two-level set designed by Christiana Pepin with a stage-right staircase that looked so solid I swore it was part of the North End Union's architecture, and there was a quiet little nook in Central Park where anyone who might like a quiet read could spend an odd hour or two undisturbed.
The second play was Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story" you see and, as it began, I witnessed the events in that story I promised to tell you. But they only became resonant after I watched what looked like a seamless, effortless, fluidly compelling reading of these classic lines by William Becze as the bookish Peter and Frank Annese back again as Jerry, the one who seems to need to talk.
In both these plays, what was so impressive was the apparent naturalness of the flow of lines, no matter from whose mouth they came. That, and the fact that even during times when Jerry went on for pages and pages, there were always Two people on that stage, because Peter was reacting, responding, or merely Listening in the most appropriately natural way possible. It never seemed like a "performance" but like it was happening before my eyes, and I caught myself wondering why such believably ordinary confrontations shocked and bewildered critics when this play was new, wondering if Edward Albee was ahead of his time, or if his insights had somehow allowed the world to pay attention to things in a wholly new way that since then has altered our awareness.
Or was it just that William Becze and Frank Annese were such damn good actors.
Well, that's why I was at the North End Union, and why I think you should go to the North End Union, 20 Parminter Street, just as soon as possible to see what I saw. But I promised you I'd tell a story, and I'll tell it now:
THE STORY OF FRANK COUNTING THE HOUSE!
Okay: when Frank Annese stepped onto that balcony with his hands full of popcorn and a plastic liter of coke to begin "The Zoo Story" I watched him pause, and with his finger count the people in the audience, before turning to begin what I think may be one of the most riveting performances I've seen all year --- and remember I reviewed "Man And Superman" favorably at A.R.T. only the night before.
And after the show I hung around to compliment the cast and remember the Wilbur production of "The Mousetrap" that Frank directed and in which William played Paravaccini and about which they remembered my review. We leaned up against a parked car's fender enjoying our mutual commitment to theater, and someone stopped to look at the sidewalk photos and posters and asked "You doing theater here?" And I told him yes, very good theater, and he should come see.
Then I came home, thinking how Frank and his friends had remodelled and repainted that theater-space, built a set many other companies only dream of, paid for advertising, and announced an early-curtain press-night. I thought about the fact that theater is built not out of painted muslin and lighting and hype but out of people. I thought about Jerry in "Zoo Story" pleading for a little attention, some sort of human contact, asking only to be noticed, to be listened to, not ignored. I thought of Frank Annese hoping that each person in that audience would go home and tell all their friends about what they had seen that night.
And so I stopped to buy a quart of bourbon and came home to tell all my friends, in my own way, to go to The New Neighborhood Theatre in the North End Union at 20 Parmenter Street to see what I think are two damn good plays.
Because, you see, when Frank Annese paused on that balcony, all he could count were eight people in a 150-seat house. And they had given me a free ticket.
Pardon me, but I see my glass is empty, and I think I shall refill it. Maybe I'll refill it several times, before this night is over.