Web Original: Performance Review: Unusual Acts of Devotion

Unusual Acts of Devotion by Terrence McNally
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Directed by Leonard Foglia
Starring Richard Thomas, Faith Prince, Michael Aronov, Viola Harris, Anna Reeder, and Steve Kuhel

10 Words or Less … Old friends gather on a rooftop to celebrate an anniversary.

Strengths … Philadelphia Theatre Company opens its second season at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre with a home run. This new play from Tony award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (the same play Kathy Bates pulled out of last year, forcing PTC to scramble for an inaugural show for the Suzanne Roberts Theatre) is passionate and sensitive in its portrayal of the lives of five long-time neighbors gathered for a celebratory dinner on the rooftop of their Greenwich Village walk-up in New York City. This production is a delight as it weaves together music, memory, deep disappointment and abiding love — hallmarks of McNally’s tender plays about alternative families and steadfast friendship. Leonard Foglia, who recently earned much praise for his work with Laurence Fishburne in Thurgood, directs this piece with an insightful sentiment and a comic flare that allows the play’s painful revelations and its characters’ profound regrets to emerge without devolving into cliché or catastrophe. Tony winner Santo Loquasto’s set design is superb in its authenticity and detail.

Weaknesses … While the play is emotionally evocative and the relationships it portrays are genuine, McNally self-consciously writes ‘soliloquies’ through which his characters express opinions about New York City and the world beyond. These moments are heavy with ideas and lack theatricality; in fact, they diminish some of the intimacy of relationship which the play so beautifully details. This self-consciousness also makes its way into some of the acting. While loveable, Michael Aronov as Leo does an awful lot of posing, and Anna Reeder as Nadine often takes on a tone of voice that sounds more like a schoolteacher talking down to a class than a friend or a lover.

Verdict Unusual Acts of Devotion is powerfully evocative and has the rare quality to make you laugh out loud in one moment and move you to tears in the next. The renowned actor Richard Thomas is just amazing. His performance as Chick is unerringly complex, and his skill as a veteran of stage and screen is a delight to observe as he remains fully present and, indeed, electric throughout the evening. Faith Prince as Josie is equally commanding. She balances inner strength and brokenness in this ardent performance that keeps the audience wondering what will happen next. Together they are not to be missed! It is a true delight to watch these two stars light up the stage on Broad Street. Go see this play.

Through November 23 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Philadelphia Theatre Company. Tickets $10-$59.