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As the Fridge Hums, So Does Curse of the Starving Class at Signature

As the Fridge Hums, So Does Curse of the Starving Class at Signature

As the light streams in through the ruptured windows on to that dirty worn linoleum floor, the fragments of a violent world, mid-explosion, hang brilliantly in the dusty air. It becomes increasingly clear, as it gets more attention than almost anyone else in Sam Shepard’s iconic Curse of the Starving Class, the uncredited character that should get some secondary billing is that dirty old refrigerator that sits idly and emptily on the side lines. The clan of desperate family members that populate this mad household constantly shuffle over with a primal hunger, open the door, and peer inside with a hope for some much needed nutrition.

Maggie Siff. Photo by Joan Marcus.

There are many a long conversations had with that inanimate object, begging and pleading it for some surprise sustenance, only to slam the door, frustrated with a world that has served them up basically nothing to speak of on that dirty stage floor at the Signature Theatre. In this Obie Award winning and much worshipped play (especially by all those young male thespians in acting schools), the mismatched clan fight for survival, clawing at the skin of everyone around hoping to find salvation and keep the malnutrition of their mortal souls far far away, maybe buried out somewhere in that desert amongst those foul smelling artichokes. Their empty stomachs are filled to the brim with that satirical western poetry that made playwright Shepard (True WestFool For Love) and this Curse so starvingly iconic. The cast, as fractured and beaten down as can be, rise up to that heightened level of itchy ease, performing at such an intense level of alertness to detail, that, for the most part, that first explosion of their worldview rings solid and clear. All, but not only, thanks to the scenic design by Julian Crouch (Broadway’s Hedwig…), exacting lighting by Natasha Katz (Broadway’s The Prom), and solid sound and original music by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen (Broadway’s No Man’s Land). For that, I’m hoping you aren’t one of those latecomers, showing up past the hour and missing the blast.

Lizzy Declement, Andrew Rothenberg. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As directed with precision and skill by Terry Kinney (RTC’s The Price), that dirty cowboy boot sharpness of tongue stomps slyly forward, even with the overly long first act (that combined the original Act 1 with Act 2 of 3). It’s wilily and wild this wife Ella, donning the perfectly attuned and muddy costuming by Sarah J. Holden (LCT’s The Babylon Line) and portrayed sharply by Maggie Siff (TFANA’s Taming of the Shrew) in full mud mask and curlers, walking out into the shambles of what her hurricane husband, Weston, portrayed with full frightening force by David Warshofsky (Broadway’s Carousel) had brought forth earlier this morning. “He’s the one who broke it down – he can clean it up then“. It’s chaos concretely arranged and left for her dimwitted son, Wesley, played with lethargic fire by Gilles Geary (Atlantic’s Hangmen) to take care of, and her daughter, Emma, intelligently and manically portrayed by the firecracker Lizzy Declement (MCC’s Lost Girls) to basically ignore and defend against.  Their initial first scene personifies all that is Shepard, with his sly and hungry poetic bite, gnawing at the darkly agonizing and destructive energy that lives rotting in their open starved mouths. “Talk is cheap” Emma says defensively, babbling on and on, too distastefully dark to swallow, regardless of how starving they actually are. But it’s not food they are hungry for, beyond that incredible piss and binge scene both by the impressively game Geary. It’s some other farfetched idea of gaining love, support, and security that will fill up their empty souls and save them from oblivion.  That is in short supply in the opening and closing of the Shepard’s fridge door. And it’s an exhausting long drive, leaving you in need of a good dead-like nap on a hard surface.  “I see“, is the only thing a lawyer man can say to all that.

Maggie Siff, David Warshofsky. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The dual character-playing cast members, Andrew Rothenberg (Steppenwolf’s Mizlansky/Zilinsky) and Esau Pritchett (Pioneer’s The Lion in Winter) show up at that door-less entrance, separately and then together. At one point, the two very fine actors, playing two very different men offer a way out or something more akin to a smash and grab drive-by; sellers should beware, and at another, to slam the jail door shut with a painful punch by thugs carrying death in their fire balled fists. These are two sets of two to be wary of in Sam Shepard’s branding world of lost boys as men driving around in the desert dying of thirst while being drunk as a skunk,. His brand of poetry resonates on every surface within these fragmented four walls, even as Malcolm, hilariously portrayed by the wise Flora Diaz (59E59’s Playing God) stands aghast at what lays before her in that maggot infested sheep farm fiasco, with real life animals, courtesy of William Berloni (Broadway’s The Ferryman) crying softly at the horror that surrounds them. The talk and cries are about escape and glorified rebirth somewhere far away, like all of Shepard’s characters, but the road is dusty and full of dangerous potholes, and the family blood filled with poison. Signature’s Curse falters in spirit in the final act, flaying around a bit too much in the madness, losing its clear minded drunken authenticity, but lucky for us, this in not a civilized household to behold, but one filled with fierce actors as tom cats, willing to bring the eagle down, scratching at the flying carnivore’s underbelly when captured and caught in its sharp talons, even if it means death for the tom cat as well.  Just ask Weston. He’ll explain, that is if he remembers to finish his tale before running for his life.

David Warshofsky, Gilles Geary. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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