A Stage With a Different View

Christina Masciotti and Richard Maxwell backstage on opening night. Photo by Maurice Pinzon

By Maurice Pinzon
It was opening night at The Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side for the performance of Vision Disturbance, a new play written by Christina Masciotti and directed by Richard Maxwell. It was a hot and muggy day but the trip was more than worth it.

Once inside, your job has just begun. The playwright, director, and the actors appear to expect you to do some work and engage in the play rather than sit back and hide in your seat. Instead, you’ll see the performance by sharing the stage for an up-close and personal visit with the characters. You can see the actors’ eyeballs and as you listen to them from that proximity, you may find yourself moving around in your chair uncomfortably, if you forget they aren’t speaking only to you.

But that’s how real it gets.

Vision Disturbance takes the audience through the trials and trails of Mondo, a Greek-immigrant woman in her fifties, whose world and life have changed so much that one day she can’t see straight. Mondo has an acute vision problem, apparently brought on by the stress of her divorce to her junk – collecting husband.

Part of your job, if you really want to see an interesting and innovative play, is to leave everything behind when you enter the theater and just pay close attention to the words. Ms. Masciotti’s dialogue and Mr. Maxwell’s direction make it easy to forget the noisy, information-saturated world outside, and to listen to the words. That in itself is an achievement, but the actors’ words are true gems.

Mondo, played by wonderful Linda Mancini, is the creator of this intense listening. As Mr. Maxwell said in an interview after the show, Ms. Mancini pulled the play together. “Linda basically made the piece happen,” he said. For Masciotti, Maxwell and Mancini, it was a fortuitous meeting of talent.

Ms. Mancini speaks hundreds of lines with a Greek immigrant’s accent, a very difficult thing to do, Mr. Maxwell said, for a non-Greek actor, after only three weeks of rehearsal. But Mr. Maxwell is used to giving a lot of text to actors and Ms. Mancini rose to the challenge.

Mr. Maxwell is also a playwright, who Ben Brantely, the chief theater critic for the New York Times, called him “one of the few truly original experimental theater auteurs to emerge in New York during the past decade.”

Ms. Mancini certainly seems to meet his expectations. She’s a force on stage and you can’t keep your eyes off of her, except when the lights dim and you only have her words rattling in your mind. It is then that you realize that just like Mondo, you have to lose some of your vision to hear and see anew.

Here are a few lines from Mondo to whet your appetite:

Describing what happened after putting on an eye patch: “Like when I walked into the room all the furniture jumped into the wall. It was an empty room with a very detailed wallpaper.”

About her husband: “He didn’t discriminate against junk.”

At one point Mondo tells us, he insisted on picking up a “Baby on Board” sign he found even though Mondo didn’t have a baby. Funny. Except, she tells us, it shouldn’t be a surprise that her husband also collects women.

“When your time is out you should leave. Show us your talent, then drop dead.”

Is this about people or cultures?

There are these words of two actors, minimal staging and an audience up against the wall backstage. It somehow makes it easier to feel the stress, the remorse of love, the nostalgia for Greek culture, for the need to sometimes let go and to embrace, the tenuous existence of an immigrant’s identity. That and much more in this play.

At one point Mondo says, “He knew the inside story, he knew the outside story, he knew all the stories, and he made a story out of my words.” The same could be said of Ms. Masciotti. She closed her eyes one day and listened to us and herself, mixed it all up, and came out with this wonderful new play.

Vision Disturbance was written by Christina Masciotti,and directed by Richard Maxwell with Linda Mascini, as Mondo,and Jay Smith as Dr. Hull. Vision Disturbance is a production of the New York City Players. Mr. Maxwell is the artistic director of the theater company. The play is 80 minutes long and runs from September 1 – 18, 2010. For tickets call: 212-352-3101 or go to www.theatermania.com.

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