By: Darryl Reilly
“Everything is copy,” was Nora Ephron’s dictum regarding using one’s experiences as artisitc material. Telling one’s life story on the stage has long been a theatrical form, depending on the life and the achievement of its depiction, such works can often be a niche entertainment of varying success. “Productions of two new plays by distinguished women playwrights” is how the cell theatre describes its program, Femme First. These are therapeutic solo shows for their creators playing in repertory, each deals with death, grief and reflection.
Actor Orlagh Cassidy has extensive stage, screen and television credits, including a role on the soap opera, The Guiding Light. It’s In The Play, is her co-written with Kate Lardner autobiographical family saga. Ms. Cassidy’s parents were Irish immigrants who moved to Washington, D.C., in 1963, and had four children. Her chilly chain-smoking wine-drinking mother was a science professor, and her distant father was an architect who desired a musical career. The play begins with the mother dying in a hospital from a stroke brought on by a toe infection caused by a pedicure.
For 80 minutes, Cassidy passionately acts out various family members and colorfully imparts facts as herself. Her performance is affective, and the writing is professional, but lacking in momentum. That is until near the end, when Cassidy casually tosses out that her father may have molested her and her troubled brother. It’s In The Play is a perplexing exercise that could satisfy theatergoers who indiscriminately appreciate theatrical confessionals. The show is not helped by director Kira Simring who has the contained playing area unattractively cluttered with four white wooden chairs, a tatty portable closet containing shoes, and various props.
Self-described “Native New Yorker from Long Island” Kim Kalish pops out on the bare stage, instantly exhibiting her exceptional skills as a standup comedian at the start of her self-written show, The Funny Thing About Death. It is an hour-long rumination on the death of her ex-college boyfriend who slipped off a roof while rehearsing Hamlet, in 2008. During Ms. Kalish’s often emotionally raw performance we get a cascade of well-shaped memories and reveries, peppered with honed zingers and one-liners. Kalish takes the notion of one central event shadowing a life and runs with it. Director Patrick Cavanaugh’s command of pacing and use of lighting flourishes enhances the presentation.
At the opening night performance under review, a man in the first row passed out and came to. Audience members and house staff went to his aid, causing Kalish to stop her show during its aching and dramatically spotlighted finale. The man was escorted out, it was later learned that he was okay. Kalish confidently resumed, starting the sequence over from its beginning with the previous level of emotion.
These shows are part of the Origin Theatre Company’s 1st Irish Festival 2023. The program includes more than 20 theatrical productions, play readings and film screenings across New York City over three weeks. For information, visit www.origintheatre.org
Femme First (through January 29, 2023)
the cell theatre, 338 West 23rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.thecelltheatre.org
Running times: It’s In The Play 80 minutes
The Funny Thing About Death 60 minutes