Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: 'Monday Night Monologues'

A mixed bag of little audition monologues opened in a series of Monday night shows, all different, at Plays & Players Theatre. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: 'Monday Night Monologues'

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Dambra Sabato hosts "Monday Night Monologues" on Monday at the little upstairs theater in Plays & Players. Photo by Howard Shapiro/Inquirer staff.

By Howard Shapiro

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,, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,
Monday Night Monologues: On Monday nights through July 23 on the upstairs floor of Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. Tickets: $18-20. Information:

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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