Sunday, July 25, 2010

Danny Aiello Shines in 'The Shoemaker'

Special things sometimes do indeed come in small packages.

Certainly such is the case with the compact (2 characters, 45 minutes) play called The Shoemaker, written by Susan Charlotte (based on her screenplay) and movingly performed by Danny Aiello and Lizbeth Mackay as two strangers whose paths cross during a time of crisis.

This one-acter received its world premiere production recently as part of a week of charity events by Cause Célèbre, a not-for-profit theater company with a mission of “fostering an enhanced understanding of psychological, physical, and social issues through drama.” The playwright, who happens to be the executive and artistic director of Cause Célèbre, has done proud by the company’s mission and has offered up more depth of understanding of the human psyche in under an hour than almost anything I’ve seen on or off Broadway in a very long time.

What drew me to the play was the opportunity to see Mr. Aiello, whom I last saw perform on stage more than three decades ago in Gemini, one of the plays on my personal favorites list. He did not disappoint, and both he and Ms. Mackay gave first-class performances.

Mr. Aiello plays the title character, a curmudgeon of a man who seems to be in a persistently surly mood, and certainly someone you would not particularly want to do business with. That Ms. Mackay’s character, Hilary, is insistent on doing business with him is strictly the result of a hole she has worn in her shoe while wandering aimlessly up and down the length of Manhattan. He wants to close up his shop for the day; she wants him to fix her shoe.

On the face of it, this is not much to hang a play on, but the writer has her characters unveil their secrets slowly, and we gradually come to understand what it is that has so affected their lives that normal discourse has become nearly impossible. As it happens with people in times of high stress, one of the characters has more immediately absorbed the blow through personal empathy and a flood of memories; the other, it would seem, is still in a state of shock and has yet to be overwhelmed, even as the pair part company at the end.

Without revealing any more of the storyline, let me just say that the power of the play is such that it has stuck in my mind long since the actors took their bows. Indeed, it wasn’t until I was describing it later to someone else that the emotional impact of it fully hit me and left me choking back tears.

The Shoemaker
deserves to have a long life beyond its brief initial run, and I hope that Ms. Charlotte is not tempted to expand it into anything more than the polished jewel that it already is.

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