“Savage in Limbo”

Photo by Kristen Edler

Play:        “Savage in Limbo”

Group:        OnSite Theatre

Venue:        Cusumano’s, 7147 Manchester Road

Dates:        July 13, 14, 15, 16

Tickets:    $20; contact 314-686-0062 or www.OnSiteTheatre.org

Story:    Welcome to Murk’s world.  It’s a dark, seedy dump of a tavern in the Bronx, where as bartender he presides over a smattering of desperate sorts in search of elusive happiness.  One of his regulars is April, who has passed out at the bar after a few too many drinks.  In walks Denise Savage, who recalls that she went to grade school with April as well as Linda Rotunda, a tough-talking dame who arrives shortly after Savage.

    The women have love problems of a very different sort.  Savage bemoans the fact that she is still a virgin at age 32 and is determined to alter that deficiency as soon as possible. Linda, though, has been “knocked up,” as Savage observes, many times in the past several years, and by the tender age of 32 she’s already given up three children to adoption.  The latest is by her thick-headed, macho boyfriend, Tony Aronica, who shows up at the bar and announces that he’s going to start dating “ugly women” to find out what he’s been missing. April is reviving and spouting memories about her life as a would-be nun, while Murk insists that everyone order a drink or get out.  It’s life in limbo for this quintet of 32-year-old wandering souls.

Highlights:    OnSite Theatre, which specializes in site-specific presentations, is offering a splendid rendition of John Patrick Shanley’s one-act story as the play celebrates its 25th anniversary.  Director Annamaria Pileggi smartly uses the dark, cramped Cusumano’s bar in Maplewood to underscore the forlorn, somewhat desperate tenor in the lives of this neighborhood quintet.  They’re all 32 years old, or a year younger than Jesus was before his crucifixion. As Catholics, they may subconsciously be aware of that and seeking to change their insignificant circumstances while they have time.  Additionally, all have sad stories concerning their mothers which further tie them together.

Other Info:    Pileggi extracts excellent performances from her players, who in the claustrophobic confines of Cusumano’s delve into their psyches in the midst of the audience scattered around the bar, a few tables and the odd assortment of nooks and crannies.  Each of the performers has his or her turn to plead a character’s case, and all of them make those cases heartfelt.

    Jenn Bock brings a cocky bluster as well as a tender vulnerability to Savage, who lives with and cares for her invalid mother.  She yearns to experience life and clumsily addresses some quirky possibilities that are as sad as they are funny.  Julie Venegoni fills Linda with a thick New York accent and a dense brain, in love with her boyfriend Tony more out of happenstance than real emotion but determined to hold on to the little bit of advantage that she has.

    As Tony, Eric White is a whirlwind of self-centered, stereotypical, blue-collar bravado, a man who defines his life as a series of “girl, car and bed.”  In his case, alcohol may actually help him think more clearly, and White makes him a compelling if confused presence.

    Back at the bar itself, Colleen Backer is a force of comedic nature as April, drolly revealing elements of her own lackluster life such as how her mother died after imbibing four Brandy Alexanders or how she almost became a nun with pitch-perfect delivery.  As Murk, Jared Sanz-Agero shields his own doubts and frailties behind the steely resolve of a taciturn bartender, until in the show’s most poignant moment he masquerades as Santa Claus to bring some temporary cheer into April’s life.

    The cast provides its own costumes, all adorned in various combinations of black and white, and stage manager Katie Donnelly doubles as a waitress for the patrons who take advantage of Cusumano’s cheap but tasty drinks.  Eventually, Shanley’s well-wrought tale runs out of steam before its conclusion.  Still, it’s a fine night, indeed, for audience members to catch a glimpse of the denizens of “Savage in Limbo.”

Rating:    A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.