Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the February 21,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
As everyone knows, Venecia, also known as Venice, is
a real place. It’s in Italy. But in Jorge Accame’s play
it is something much more. It achieves a romantically mythical status;
it becomes a place where dreams come true. Like other famous
places (Oz, Camelot, Iowa) it represents all that is beautiful, good,
romantic, and (most importantly) untainted by reality.
On the other hand, Chita Rivera is a real person. Although you
know it to look at her (she is as sleek as a woman half her age),
she is exceedingly grounded in reality, and that is one of the secrets
of her great success. It is simply amazing to see such a vital
steeped in professionalism and beauty perform at such a high level,
in the American premiere of a new play, three weeks past her 68th
birthday. She acts beautifully, dances with delicate precision, and
steals every scene she is in. She is an enchantress.
There is no getting around the fact that she is the very best reason
to see the George Street Playhouse production of "Venecia."
But she is not the only reason.
"Venecia" is a play on the move. It has been or will be,
in over 12 countries around the globe. Initially written by Jorge
Accame, it had been running for three years in Buenos Aires by the
time Arthur Laurents came upon it. After acquiring the rights,
utilized his free hand in adapting the play to American tastes.
It is being billed as a comic fable about three kind-hearted
prostitutes (played by Dana Brooke, Catherine Curtin, and Joanna
all deeply grateful to their aged blind madam, called La Vieja (Chita
Rivera), for her kindness in plucking them from the streets of Jujuy
(pronounced hoo-hooey), a small town in Northern Argentina, and
them in her run-down brothel. La Vieja’s dream has always been to
travel to Venice, Italy, to reunite with her lost soulmate, Don
(Tom Flynn). It seems that many years before, in the midst of a great
mutual love affair, La Vieja stole Don Giacomo’s gold coins, thus
ending the affair. But now, as old age advances and death approaches,
she realizes her mistake and seeks to once again melt into his
forgiving arms that reside, attached to his body, all the way across
the ocean in Venecia.
But there is no money for such an expensive trip, so the kind-hearted
prostitutes, aided by their frequent customer Chato (Paolo Andino),
concoct a scheme to fool La Vieja into believing she is flying off
to Italy, when in fact she merely sits in an old metal chair perched
atop a couple of old wooden crates. It is easy to do, of course,
she is blind, and they’re only doing it because they love her and
want to fulfill her dream. But true to form, a miracle happens, La
Vieja’s dream is lived out, and everyone’s life changes for the
The play itself is saccharine-sweet, and reads like a cross between
a "Disney-fied" fairy tale and an old "Three’s
script. (Warning — there is a preponderance of lame penis jokes
that are truly grating. You see, Chato enters carrying a small
organ and — you get the picture.) Also, the "F-word" is
sprinkled throughout the script, perhaps in an effort to beat back
the persistent sentimentality. It doesn’t work. The characters as
written have little depth, particularly the prostitutes, who are
indistinguishable from one another. They are all
beneath a harsh exterior. Together, they’re like one big TV family.
Laurent’s direction is certainly competent. He gets his characters
to convey important information nonverbally, by using body postures
and positions. As the play opens, we know immediately that the three
young women are prostitutes by the way he seats them on their chairs
— with their legs spread as wide open as discarded clamshells.
There is a slightly mechanical air to this production as characters
move about the stage like inflexible chess pieces, uttering well-timed
wisecracks, waiting for their time at center stage.
James Youmans contributes an excellent set design. The pale browns
and smatterings of chipped paint of the brothel, coupled with the
wide open spaces set between objects, perfectly transmit the
of sun-scorched isolation. David Lander’s lighting design is also
first rate, spreading itself across the expanse of the stage and
the play’s broad comedy when needed, and tightening down to nurture
the play’s more intimate moments. In this way he also bridges the
gap between reality and fantasy that the play must depend on to
"Venecia" is well-crafted, light entertainment, adequately
realized. But Chita is the star, and it is an honor to see her
— Jack Florek
New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. Directed and adapted by Arthur Laurents.
To March 11. $24 to $40.
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