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PIECES OF A PLAYWRIGHT II at Bank Street Theatre Surprises.

Albert Insinnia sounds nervous. It’s almost 4 weeks before the opening of the followup to his highly successful first “Pieces of a Playwright” short play compilation, this one is aptly called “Pieces of a Playwright II: The Plays of Nick DeSimone” and he has only a few tickets sold.

Armen Garo prays for patience.

Like many producers a few weeks out from opening night, Albert is stressing every detail of this production. There are union issues to resolve, venue logistics, marketing decisions, a huge cast of 25, mostly equity actors, seven plays in the program, and more than too many separate rehearsals to count and schedule. In theatre we talk about “hell week,” but in Albert’s case it sounds more like “hell month.” For the longtime professional actor (he has numerous Broadway, Off Broadway, film and television credits to his name, including his role in the original Broadway production of Grease), producing is a different animal altogether. Albert is getting little to no sleep. And now he is in spending mode and worrying about ticket sales. I have no idea what his budget is like, but he is clearly pumping it all into this production.

Fast forward to the the middle of March: the production will run for only one week and feature the short plays of playwright Nick DeSimone. I decide to go see this production. I walk into this little theater next door to the famed HB Studios on Bank Street, called the Bank Street Theater, not sure what to expect. Typically, these short play productions might offer some good scripts, but otherwise the production quality and presentation often end up being sub par. I’ve been to so many that I almost don’t want to go anymore. I even produced one this year and felt I needed to work harder the next time around. I was not 100% satisfied. But Albert has me intrigued. To my surprise, I quickly realize that Mr. Insinnia has indeed pulled off a hit.

Pieces of a Playwright II was an absolutely enjoyable night of theatre. Yes, the direction was excellent, the plays were funny and/or memorable, and the work of Mr. DeSimone is a joy to watch (the playwright sat two seats away from me enjoying every minute of his work. For a playwright to successfully see his or her play(s) on stage can be life altering). The production quality was clean, perfect for the limitations of the space, and as professional as you could possibly demand. Still, for me personally, the clincher was the acting. It was spectacular. Whatever Albert invested on these professional actors was money and time well spent!

Most of the plays were comedies. In the “The Kosher Capo” (Directed by Rick Mowat), a mobster (HBO’s Armen Garo) sits in at the auditions of a movie about his own life and muscles a winning audition out of the most unlikely mensch to ever walk into an audition studio. Garo was spectacular, funny, silly, scary and the perfect contrast to Nelson Avidon’s “Ben Black.” It was a perfect choice as the first play of the evening and it set the stage for great things to come. “Reggie” (Directed by Kevin P. Joyce) follows up next with the story of a young bride discovering just in the nick of time that her future husband may be the gayest straight groom to ever walk down the aisle. In “Long Branch” (Directed by Albert Insinnia), a father and daughter explore the nature of their not so perfect relationship. “Gee Gee Jupiter” (Directed by Rick Mowat), about an aging rock star, caps off a wonderful first act. Each story resonates, each performance is a joy to watch. Bill Weedon as Gee Gee is a riot.

In act two, I loved “Josephine” (Directed by Rick Mowat). Whacky, memorable characters brought to life by Neal Mayer and Melissa Roth are testament to the talent that went into this production. In a very touching turn, the second play of the act, “Marcel & Eddie” (Directed by and starring Albert Insinnia himself) seems almost out of sync in tone with the rest of the lineup, but wow, what a play. Insinnia as Marcel, a junkie artist, is touching, sad, and very real as the older lover of a much younger artist, Eddie (played by Byron O’Hanlon). The story manages to deal with drugs, relationships, and age disparity in just a few minutes of stage-time that is nothing short of impressive. The evening closes with a wild, high energy, comedy, “The Rabbi and Concepción” (Directed by Rick Mowat), that was one of the evening's comedic highlights. Some characters certainly border on the edge of stereotypes, but for the comedy to work, this is the right choice.

I may add, in connection to my opening comments about Mr. Insinnia’s concerns, that the show was sold out on the night I attended, and I am sure on the other nights. If you’ve seen either of Mr. Insinnia’s Pieces of a Playwright (I or II), I am sure you are not like to miss his future offerings. I won’t.

For more information, check out Oasis.ny Theatre Group on Facebook.

For more information, check out Oasis.ny Theatre Group on Facebook.





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