BY TRAV S.D. | One never knows what to expect when one sees a show at the Torn Page space on West 22nd Street—but you can usually count on surprise, and can certainly bank on an intimate experience. Based in the old Chelsea townhouse of stage and screen giants Rip Torn and Geraldine Page, most of the shows staged there take place in a literal living room, accommodating audiences roughly the size of an average baseball team (if you include the second string). You’re not just close to the actors at Torn Page, you’re in the actual playing space, reminding us that theatre was the original Virtual Reality.
Playing through January 27, Romina Paula’s The Whole of Time, heightens the sensation: One of its characters, played by Josefina Scaro, is permanently housebound, possibly agoraphobic. She’s so eloquent at rationalizing her predicament it’s difficult to pigeonhole a single motivation. Both the playwright and the actress are Argentinian, though the character is Hungarian-Mexican-Argentinian. The topic of Frida Kahlo is discussed at length, but the inevitable comparison to be made is Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, a conscious choice on the part of the playwright. Like the Williams play, The Whole of Time is a four-hander concerning a sister (Scaro), a brother (Lucas Savalgno), a mother (Ana B. Gabriel), and a pal of the brother’s and the young lady’s potential suitor (Ben Becher).
To its credit, however this is far from a transcription or adaptation of the older play, but more like an original riff on similar themes. The most Williamsesque gesture in the production, more an actor/director choice than a textual fulfillment, is Becher’s hilarious interpretation of his character as some kind of Method actor hybrid of Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Robert DeNiro—complete with a leather jacket and a Bronx accent. It’s a broad choice, magnetic and infectious, and it threatens to be disruptive until you get used to it, when Becher’s superb engagement skills subsume him into the action.
The other three are strong, as well. Scaro, a dead ringer for Sarah Silverman, is ironically set apart by a strong accent not possessed by her fellow cast members, otherwise holds her own in the ensemble. Gabriel as the vivacious, fun-loving, and hard-drinking mother conjures several other Williams characters unlike Amanda Wingfield. Salvagno as the brother has more in character with Menagerie’s Laura; he appears to be recuperating from an accident.
Director Tony Torn knows a thing or two about Tennessee Williams; his parents famously co-starred in the original production of Sweet Bird of Youth. The play gives him and the cast a lot to work with, by turns realistic and absurdist, with occasional moments of non sequitur bubbling up out of the kitchen sink. Like the best experimental theatre, it even contains elements of show business. The piece is bookended by Salvagno singing along with the Mexican pop song Si No Te Hubieras Ido performed by Marco Antonio Solis—and he sounds about as good as the record. And there’s a terrific makeout scene set to Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog. Now that’s what I call drama!
“The Whole of Time”—by Argentinian playwright Romina Paula in a translation by Jean Graham-Jones, directed by Tony Torn—takes place through Jan. 27 at Torn Page (435 W. 22nd St. btw. 9th & 10th Aves.); Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm and Saturdays at 6pm and 9pm with additional performances on Jan. 14 at 5pm and Jan. 15 at 7pm. Runtime: 70 minutes, no intermission. Tickets are Pay What You Wish with a suggested donation of $44. Reservations are required and can be made at www.tornpage.org.
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