By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Dambra Sabato, the host of an offbeat series called "Monday Night Monologues" that opened Monday in Center City, makes the point that actors are the only people who have to audition for just about every job they ever do. So “an actor’s audition monologue is arguably his best work,” he says — arguably being the key word here.
“Yet,” he goes on, “these actors’ aces never get played before an audience.”
So Sabato brings a concept he’s tried out in New Jersey to the upstairs little theater at Plays & Players — a round of five Monday nights when actors perform their audition monologues. Different actors on different Mondays — there are always seven of them — mean that no two shows will be the same.
Sabato attempts to tie these diverse pieces together with encomiums and quick background about the plays that contain the monologues, so that an audience has some context. The monologues themselves mostly ran about two minutes Monday night — seven actors each doing two pieces in a show of about 75 minutes. Sabato’s grout seemed longer than some snippets he was introducing, but he’s a cheery host and endearing enough to sustain his own monologues.
On Monday night, the actors — some professional, some starting — gave the pieces their best shots. Still, it’s tough for an audience to parse monologues that are generally epiphanies or extreme moments from plays that give them a well-developed context. Plus, a real audition is not for acting alone; it’s a way for a director to see how you look onstage, or move, or may be fit for a part that has nothing to do with the shard you’re performing.
This was obvious in a few of the pieces, but others had characters we could identify with immediately, such as Karen Devaney’s portrayal of Sophie from Sophie’s Choice, recounting how she had to give up a child for murder by the Nazis. Another was Rachel Brodeur’s portrayal of Grace from Susan Brabant’s monologue "Gracie and Butch"; her little, fluid performance made me want to read more of Brabant’s work.
Jonathan Steadman was able to make us understand the son’s image of his mom in poet Lisa Buscani’s “Counting”; Sharon Spitz did a nice job as the mother from Ron Cowan’s Summertree, despite her piece being a metaphor for a real story she barely refers to. Kumar Dari gave life to the character Bertie in a piece of a short story from P.G. Wodehouse’s "Carry On, Jeeves," and although Christina Forshey’s title character was hard to understand, pulled from Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, Forshey’s performance was affecting.
Andrew Vitagliano left ‘em laughing at the end, with a characterization of the disingenuous doctor who describes the side effects of a pill. It’s called “Medicine” from an Eric Bogosian’s one-man show and needs no context whatsoever.
"Monday Night Monologues" lacks a program listing the actors and their pieces, which would be helpful to the audience. Nor does it offer a major element of auditions — a bio. If you want to know where the pieces came from, Sabato does his best to tell you. If you want to know where the actors came from and what they’ve done, no one is offering a monologue or even a typical Playbill paragraph.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
Monday Night Monologues: On Monday nights through July 23 on the upstairs floor of Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. Tickets: $18-20. Information: www.asaturdayschild.com.