Club Men


“I’d like to bang her!” whoops Chickie at every alluring body he sees. This dapper womanizer is one of the five regulars at Bruce Graham’s Belmont Avenue Social Club (INTAR), a surely
crafted drama about a Bronx political clique. Nailing its denizens with breathtaking authenticity, this ambitious play takes on loyalty, ambition, and betrayal within the microcosm of a contest for City Council in 1985. Councilman Pete has just been buried. His long-held seat in their increasingly black district was slated to go to Fran’s young protégé, college boy Doug: “Everybody else is too old or indicted.” But canny father figure Fran has instead tapped Pete’s grief-swept best friend, Tommy, a sweet old-timer without a devious bone in his obese body. Next in line, Doug is assigned to handle media strategy, but makes suspect decisions. The situation will explode, people will be hurt, and an uncomfortable new political era will be grimly ushered in.

Graham’s dialogue crackles— it’s funny, profane, and smart. Constance Grappo directs tautly, capturing the chemistry of cronyism, with its cheek pinching and back patting: friendship and loyalty are visceral in this backroom world neatly conjured by Lauren Kurki’s beery, no-frills set. David Kener’s smarmy Doug is a shade obvious, but the other performances are nearly flawless. William Wise brings a steely, sad-eyed wisdom to Fran, and Michael P. Moran touches and surprises as Tommy, the decent lug devastated by grief. Malachy Cleary makes the riled-up bigot Cholly almost likable, and Ernest Mingione is hilarious as the libidinous Chickie— who’s crushed to learn that Sinatra didn’t write his own songs. —Francine Russo

Folk Lorca

Though only women appear in Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, the play is positively pumping with testosterone. From the workers’ songs blowing in from the fields, to the stallion kicking in his stall, the palpable presence of nearby men has the five cloistered Alba virgins rebelling violently against their mother’s puritanical tyranny. In Crocodile Eyes (TNC), Eduardo Machado investigates the ensuing tragedy from the male perspective outside of Bernarda’s heavily bolted front door.

Pepe el Romano (Ed Vassallo), the conniving Romeo who proposes marriage to Angustias (Tatyana Yassukov) while routinely sneaking off with her younger sister Adela (Heather Hill), leads a small but rowdy bunch of deadbeats, who pass the night sharing cheap wine and whores. He wants to be a big shot in Franco’s right-wing revolution taking over Spain, but first he must gain control of his wealthy fiancée’s property. Joaquin (Joe Quintero), a gentle poet and intellectual not unlike Lorca himself, tries to raise Pepe’s political consciousness but is too much in love with him to avoid falling victim to his seductive but deadly brand of local fascism.

Like many works inspired by the classics, Crocodile Eyes has trouble striking a balance between the original story and the new one. Though narrative clarity is typically the playwright’s strong suit, his vision here seems unusually blurry. Nor is the play helped by Machado’s direction, which seems more fascinated with the homoerotic subtext than the basic plotline (fuzzy as that may be). But despite the lack of meaningful dramatic movement, the passionate performances of Vassallo and Quintero give the production its rapid pulse. —Charles Mcnulty

Lessons Unlearned

Having met Pulitzer Prize success with Wit, in which the focal character is an English teacher, MCC has upped the ante. Edward Napier’s The English Teachers includes one retired and two active schoolmarms— Mary Walker and her dissimilar middle-aged daughters, Victoria and Polly. Victoria, who hews to the repressive rules her West Virginia education board imposes, is running for state office in order to hand colleagues a few improvements. Polly, who speaks with an assumed upper-class British accent and has overblown thoughts of becoming a professional actress, jeopardizes her job by continually flouting local mores— her latest outrage is allowing a student to read Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in class.

Over a six-month period in 1960, the siblings get on each other’s nerves until they spill a few family secrets in front of Elizabeth, Victoria’s adolescent daughter. They also take different provocative attitudes toward Bobby Preston, a scholar/handyman renting a carriage house in their backyard and filling a T-shirt in an available-male way. The only other character with whom they have immediate truck is Ruthie Davis, on hand to run Victoria’s campaign but really kept around because she’s an amusing, if sometimes treacherous, gossip.

Napier writes dialogue that actresses like the always effective Alma Cuervo can go to town on— “If you don’t hush up your mouth, I’m going to steal your teeth,” one of them gets to say. But he doesn’t realize it’s far too late to let loose Tennessee Williams­type iron butterflies. William Inge, for one, beat him to it long ago. When, toward delayed curtain, Polly begs Bobby to make love to her, it’s enough to make a person blanch(e). Robert LuPone directs the Wit-less pastiche. —David Finkle

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 4, 1999

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