Rating: 3/5 stars
Well this was quite an interesting evening as well as the circumstances that brought me to this show. I attended A Night of One Acts this past Tuesday evening at the 30-seat black box Bridge Theater. I actually learned about this show through Twitter! The lead actor in the show reached out to me and invited me to come because he had seen my reviews. I think that is super cool and smart. With a city drowning in live theatre, it's hard to advertise for anything that isn't Broadway. You have to start reaching out to people through any means necessary. I wouldn't say that the show was my cup of tea, but I was pleasantly surprised with the acting and directing.
So it was as the title says. Act one was The Exhibition and act two was Flowers for Algernon. Very different plays but the themes were about being on display in a negative way and how people can mean well but ultimately hurt you. The Exhibition was about John Merrick (the Elephant Man) and Dr. Treves. Yes, the same story as The Elephant Man (the play) with Bradley Cooper that was on Broadway this past season. However this was a different take on it which I really appreciated. Side note, I didn't start my reviews until after I saw The Elephant Man, but I would have given it a very low rating. Bradley was great but the show itself was horribly slow and boring. The Exhibition was more introspective and was mostly made up of inner monologues of John and Dr. Treves. I liked this better because I think the John Merrick story in itself is not very interesting. The story is that he's disfigured...which isn't a riveting story. However, John's take on his own life and how he felt about humanity and what it meant to look as he did is way more interesting to me. This play also got more into how John didn't always appreciate what Dr. Treves did for him. Just because he saved him from the circus doesn't mean he gave him a life worth living. John was always on display, either through the circus or through visitors at his hospital. He never truly got to connect to another human being and was happiest when he was alone in the woods. Dr. Treves, who did mean well, couldn't relate to John and could never really help him. Matt de Rogatis played John with a shroud on his head and really showed an internally tortured man.
Matt also played the lead in Flowers for Algernon. Apparently this play is more well-known but I had never heard of it. In this play, there is a mentally-handicapped man named Charlie Gordon. His teacher signs him up for this experimental treatment to raise his intelligence. It works on the mouse named Algernon but he would be the first human patient. They perform the surgery and he rapidly gains intelligence. However with this intelligence comes his depression from realizing that the people he thought were his friends just kept him around to make fun of him. And he also falls in love with his teacher but becomes too smart for her and they can't relate. Also as a successful test subject he gets put on display at scientific conferences with Algernon. Things take a turn for the worse when Algernon starts to lose intelligence and then dies. We then get to see Charlie regress back to his lower intelligence and he also dies. Yes, both plays were quite cheery with the main characters dying at the end. Again with this play there were well-meaning people from his teacher to the doctors, but ultimately this surgery killed him and he got to watch himself deteriorate. He did say that he didn't regret the surgery but you don't say ignorance is bliss for nothing. I thought Matt did a beautiful job as Charlie in this play. Sometimes actors as mentally-disabled characters can go overboard and are offensive. Not to beat the dead horse, but one of the actors in Doctor Faustus played a mentally-disabled person and it was painful to watch. Matt was able to bring out the gentle, simple quality of Charlie but easily switch to the smarter version of Charlie later in the play. I was also impressed with Darlene Violette as the teacher. She was very conflicted about Charlie but obviously had very strong feelings for him.
I will say that both plays were a bit long for me and the monologues in The Exhibition would sometimes go on and on. But the acting was good and the direction by Joe Rosario was great. He was able to take a tiny space and block two very different worlds easily. I believe the rest of their run is sold out but perhaps you'll see these names or plays somewhere else in the future!
Who should see this show:
- If you like the John Merrick story
- If you like the idea of seeing two one-acts
- If you want to see what the underground live theatre scene is like in NYC!
How to get tickets: