Working on a Special Day's Chalk and Talk

A new play dips into the Italian cinema

Whatever their Off-Broadway salaries are, actors Ana Graham and Antonio Vega earn them. Not only do they perform Working on a Special Day—a collaboration between our own Play Company and Mexico's Por Piedad Teatro—they direct, co-translate, supply the set, and voice the sound effects. (Plus Graham designed the costumes.)

In Theater B at 59E59, Graham and Vega stand on a blank stage and introduce themselves to the audience before changing out of street clothes and into togs suggestive of 1938 Rome, showing a lot of leg in the process. They then haul out various props and use pieces of chalk to sketch several apartment windows on the walls. As the play continues, they'll chalk in other features—a telephone, a buzzer—and provide the appropriate noises when they ring.

If the staging implies experiment, the script is a fairly ordinary piece of naturalism, though it usefully suggests that sexual fluidity isn't an invention of the present day. Working draws on a 1977 Italian film about an addled housewife (you might be a little rattled, too, if you had six kids to feed and dress) and the morose bachelor who lives in an apartment across the way. Antonietta (Graham) and Gabriel (Vega) meet cute when a pet parrot goes missing, but this isn't exactly a romantic comedy, particularly as it's set on the day when Hitler arrives to show solidarity with Mussolini.

Details

Working on a Special Day
Based on 'Una Giornata Particolare' by Ettore Scola and Ruggero Maccari
Adapted by Gigliola Fantoni
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street
212-279-4200, 59e59.org

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Yet questions of history and fascism mostly take a backseat to misaligned desires and domestic chores. This focus on small stuff seems to be the intention of a play that includes Gabriel's line "Life is made up of unexpected moments, and all of a sudden, I felt like laughing." If the actors don't really make a case for reviving this script, they're both engaging performers, and their long history together reveals itself in sprightly playfulness and an ease with each other that enhances even the tense moments. And that's a good thing. At the play's end, Graham and Vega didn't have to furnish the sound of generous applause. The audience took care of that effect.

 
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