The unkindness of strangers


Written and performed by Elisa De Carlo
Directed by Roger Danforth
Midtown International Theatre Festival
WorkShop Theatre/Jewel Box Theatre
Review by Dawn Zahra

Gripping. Compelling. Gut-wrenching. Those are three words that come to mind after experiencing Elisa De Carlo's performance-art tragedy Toasted (presented at the Jewel Box Theatre of the Midtown International Theatre Festival).

This hour-long one-woman monolog takes the audience on an oft-times surreal journey through a montage of true events that occurred March through May of 1998. During this time, the author's world was profoundly shaken when, as a recovering alcoholic, she enlisted as a member of an online support group designed to encourage people to stop drinking excessively. The author narrates her everyday life of ups and downs, of struggling with addiction, and of gradually becoming deeply involved in the daily lives of the other addicted members of the forum. All is fine until the day when Larry, one of the members of their online "community," confesses to murdering his five-year-old girl. What ensues is a chilling account of how the various members responded. Most did not react (as one would expect) with the horror appropriate to the situation. Many seemed rather to disbelieve the confession or even to support Larry through his crisis. Only Elisa and one other brave spirit were concerned (and intelligent) enough to go to the police.

And go to the police they did. Shocking things happen once the culprit is arrested. Elisa finds herself propelled into immediate fame on the one hand, and on the other her former "friends" from the forum castigate her as a devil informer. The rest of the piece is about the performer's coming to grips with both situations.

Elisa De Carlo's performance was a very solid one. She can portray almost any ethnicity or gender with ease. Although she did go a little over-the-top with her characters (and they are presented in only the most superficial of ways), her onstage presence was very commanding.

Director Roger Danforth's signature on the piece was evident. Extra-special attention was paid to sound and lighting, and it showed. Although the equipment was minimal, the lighting design was creative and at times uncanny. And although the sound was far too loud at the performance reviewed, the sound montages that were created utilized ingenuity and cleverness. Likewise, the offstage music truly enhanced the production.

Elisa De Carlo created a stunning work of theatre that she should be proud of. It is not easy to bare oneself emotionally to audiences of strangers, and the story she has to tell is relevant to any concerned citizen.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 Dawn Zahra