Nick Grosso's Kosher Harry
by Cindy Pierre
Honorable Mention # 2 of 3 of Stage and Cinema's 2008 Theater Review Writing Contest
Making nice to hide the vice appears to be the motto of the three people connected through a neighborhood diner in Nick
Grosso's Kosher Harry. That is, until The Man comes around and blows off facades while making large talk
with the three people in question: the waitress, an old woman and the cabbie that drives her around daily without compensation. While
trying in vain to place an order, The Man gets more than an earful about these people's lives and their prejudices, but eventually
does a little prodding of his own to scrape underneath the surface.
Eight artists play four characters in this ambitious collaboration between Nicu's Spoon and NY Deaf Theatre.
Each team inhabits one side of the stage in a simultaneous run of the show, one for the hearing-impaired, and one for the rest. There is very
little interaction between the two, but when there is, it is either to simulate a relationship or for practical measure: for instance, the two
actresses who play The Old (and deaf) Woman (Wynne Anders, faring better in representing age than
Shira Grabelsky) enter the stage with Anders sitting on a wheelchair and Grabelsky on her lap
(Grabelsky is significantly smaller in size). It is a clever way to have the actresses enter with flair because the primary goal
is to create mirror images of each other. Apart from the similar costume and props by S. Barton-Farcas, however, the cast rarely
catch each other in script or gesture.
It is hard to comment on the performers who used sign language because one needs to be able to understand it in order to be fully equipped. It
must be noted, however, that the particular performance I attended had a last-minute stand in for the The Man, an actress named
Kimberly Mecane. Although any stammering or pauses could not be translated, Mecane seemed to hold her own
against tall and bombastic Andrew Hutcheson in the same role until one particular scene where The Waitress manipulates
The Man's, ahem, groin area. The Cabbies (Michael Dimartino, usually The Man, is a stand-in here, and
Alvaro Sena) do their best to outdo each other, but Sena gets noticed for the wrong reasons. As The
Cabby, Sena's natural Brazilian accent overrides his adopted British one, and his wild antics emulates Michael
Richards' Kramer on Seinfeld. Dimartino's performance is markedly less flamboyant, but it's
because he doesn't flail his arms and eyes around like Sena does, not because of his lack of speech. The Waitresses
(Jennifer Giroux and S. Barton-Farcas) are similarly dressed from head to toe, but The Waitress'
outlandishness is peppered by Farcas' inflections and her decidedly more garish gestures.
The co-play is theoretically a nice device that should drive the point home about interior disabilities versus exterior ones. However, the
performers who do speak have enough trouble of their own communicating those sentiments without having the added distraction of visualizing in
essence, two plays. Although the not quite racial slurs are frequent, the link between what they think and how that determines what they do is
not always established. After all, they do very little, and as a result, their racism appears very harmless. Yet, had their racism been
exceedingly harmful, Kosher Harry would be a tragedy rather than an absurdist comedy. Also, while the cast is busy talking about racism
as a mental disability, the production uses various physical disabilities without relent. The disabilities are so prevalent that
Grosso actually forgets to say very little that is substantial on the subject. The diner foundation on which the play rests is
also implausible. There is a lot of jibber-jabber, and despite the saucy conversations, the service is far lousier and more annoying than anyone
would tolerate, absurdist comedy or not. Supposedly a haven for all types of people, Kosher Harry the play treats Kosher Harry the deli
like a dodge ball match where most of the players (most of them referenced and not present) don't know to duck or step aside. But by the end,
even the whistle blowing on the game doesn't have much of an impact.