Vim-filled vignettes


Stories by Elizabeth Gilbert
Adapted and directed by Shira Piven
Water Theatre Company
The Tribeca Playhouse
111 Reade Street (971-1014)
Non-union production (closes Jan. 27)
Review by Jillian Perlberger

All literary adaptations run the risk of losing the resonance of words - so effective as description and narration - through dramatization. Pilgrims is that rare literary adaptation that not only avoids that pitfall, but beautifully enhances the stories that are its source material by creative and clever staging, superb and sensitive acting and directing, and sets and music that add wonderfully complementary visual and aural notes to the fine writing brought to life on stage. It made for an evocative and entertaining night of theatre and inspired the subsequent enjoyment-upon-reflection usually associated with a good book.

Three mini-plays made up the evening. The first, Tall Folks, is a well-wrought character study of the female owner of a shitkicker bar, as told through her warm and loosely defined relationship with her patrons, her sort-of-ex-husband, the rival bar owner across the street, her adoring and sexy nephew, and her bar itself. Sheryl Moller was a revelation as Ellen, the bar owner. She managed to be believably tender, suspicious, confrontational, laid-back, morally lax, and deeply principled, all at the same time. The entire cast - particularly Michael McCartney, Joe Roland, Patrick McCartney, Cynthia Segura, and Joan Ryan - shone throughout the piece. The second piece, The Many Things Denny Brown Did Not Know (Age Fifteen), is the wry story of a teenage boy who, through the eyes of his adult self reminiscing about one particular summer, was simply clueless about life even as he was living it. Patrick McCartney was extremely appealing as Denny, and shifted from narrating to enacting his story with admirable fluidity and naturalness. Joe Roland was understatedly superb as his best friend, as were Heidi James as his girlfriend and Jennifer Wagman as his mother. Again, the whole ensemble (including Michael McCartney, David Prete, and Leelai Demoz) was great. Finally, The Finest Wife follows the arc of the aptly named Rose from beauty queen to teenage mother to adoring wife to widowed kindergarten bus driver, whose last bus ride becomes the pinnacle of her career as belle of the ball. Moller did another star turn as Rose, supported by a standout cast of her so-called "Old Men Lovers" (Roland, Prete, Patrick McCartney, Michael McCartney, and Demoz).

Set designer Danila Korogodsky created a single set that was spare yet full, original, beautiful, strange, and somehow appropriately evocative of each of the three very different stories. The musical choices for scenes and transitions never failed to heighten the atmospheres and emotions created by the piece, and truly enhanced the evening. Lighting was beautifully done by Jaie Bosse. E. Shura Pollatsek's costumes were charmingly perfect, particularly in the last mini-play. Great credit goes to Shira Piven for bringing all of these elements together through her creative and original adaptation and direction.
Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Jillian Perlberger