San-Man: A Life in Garbage is basically Ted Montuori's story about returning from Vietnam and starting a life as a san-man (garbageman) for New York City's Department of Sanitation. An ensemble of actors mingled his story with scenes from the lives of san-men. Now retired after a cancer scare, Montuori has embarked on a new "day job," and this outing shows signs of some promise. San-Man had moments of sheer theatrical power amidst some "young" dramaturgical choices. What it lacks in experience from Montuori, it makes up in honesty and verve.
Told in 16 chapters, San-Man opens with a roll call of san-men ready to perform early-morning duty. During it's 16 episodes, we get to meet these men and watch their daily struggles with the hazards of performing trash disposal - including A.I.D.S. Meanwhile, Montuori expounds on his life in garbage. The play works best when the stories are more active. Montuori's monologues sometimes become too literate and not dramatic. When he demonstrates the "maggot shuffle" and talks about the homeless san-man sneaking his family out of a station in which they have spent the night, the play is most alive. The ensemble of players (Jack O'Connell, Z. Louis Finney, Curt Buckler, John Campo, Lawrence Levy, Joe Corrao, and of course Montuori) were excellent, hitting not one wrong note and having fun during the proceedings.
Montuori and Liebowitz's directing needed tightening. If all the characters had stayed on stage and not entered and left with the beginning of every short scene, the play wouldn't have lost steam in the transitions. The slide show announcing all the chapters was a nice Brechtian touch, but it would have helped if they weren't also listed in the program. Having both tended to turn the evening from a drama into a countdown. It's a small, nit-picky detail but the sort of thing that helps keep the audience tuned in with what is happening on stage.
The sets, by Deborah Gouette, which consisted of risers and scrims, were well-used; the costumes by Diana Chaiken were a nice touch; and the lighting design, by Bob Balogh, was acceptable with what he had to work with.
What is most strong in the evening is Montuori's love and respect
for his fellow san-men, something most of us would take for granted.
As a playwright, Montuori doesn't have his craft down fully yet;
but after seeing so much of the "seedy" con men who
inhabit the world of playwright David Mamet, Montuori has something
that Mamet doesn't possess: the ability to look at something we
usually take for granted and find a human soul underneath the
dumpsters. Best of luck, Montuori, with your new day job!
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