BWW Review: Amanda Moresco Pays Homage to Hell's Kitchen with WHERE THE NUMBERS END; A HELL'S KITCHEN LOVE TRAGEDY
Moresco's story is set in a dingy dive bar in the working class neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen, Midtown Manhattan. Three cousins celebrate a birthday together, and we quickly learn that they're each their own special kind of "crazy." The birthday girl, Margaret (Sofia Vassilieva), is a suicidal shut-in who makes an imaginary boyfriend at the bar. Louise (Elizabeth Regen) is an emotionally walled tough chick, who laments that the thing she misses most about childhood is punching people in the face. Caroline (Alexandra Vino) is a promiscuous drunk who manages to have sex with a stranger in the bathroom, start a bar fight between two men, and pass out drunk all within the course of forty-five minutes. Oh yeah, and the three cousins all live with each other, and each of their moms died separate weird and tragic deaths in the same apartment building.
How Was It?
SHORT ANSWER: Moresco's play is really a one-act Ode to Hell's Kitchen. The pure sentiment in the piece is beyond moving. The charm of this gritty neighborhood is well conveyed through the dysfunctional mess that is simply "Saturday night" to the world-weary bartender.
Go see it and spend an hour in an era of New York history that just doesn't exist anymore. Pay your respects to Moresco's memory of Hell's Kitchen before gentrification took its working class charm away.
LONGER ANSWER: Moresco's deliberate use of "tragedy" in the title is interesting. On the surface, it seems weird since the story wraps up nicely for all the characters, but make no mistake about it: the protagonist in this ballet of words is the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. When this work is viewed as an Ode to the playwright's memory of the neighborhood she grew up in (that has since been destroyed by gentrification) it all becomes clear. Like Oedipus or Willy Loman, Hell's Kitchen is a tragic hero.
The play passed by quickly (it's only about an hour long), and had a very Billy Joel's "Piano Man" quality to it. Characters quickly drifted in and out of the bar, we learn a little about them as they talk to the women, but like real life bar talk, none of it is super-important. There's really no driving story; the hour is spent almost in a haze as we learn a little bit about each character, and what makes them tick.
It was an interesting and touching experience, but I left feeling like I missed out on a lot. As quickly as the audience gets to know the characters, the show ends. Curtain was at around 8:00 pm, and at 9:05 I found myself walking down Ventura Boulevard looking for a bar. Moresco did a little too good of a job roping me into the interesting lives of the three girls that I felt like a total party-pooper leaving the theatre so early.
But, then again, I feel the play was more of a tribute to Hell's Kitchen than it was about the three girls. And if that was her intention, Moresco did an excellent job capturing the gritty essence of her childhood memory, and sharing it with the world.
In terms of performance, Moresco couldn't have gotten a better cast. Sofia Vassilieva embodied the suicidal innocence of Margaret with an impressive ease. Margaret is such a complex character, and Vassilieva slipped into her with outstanding believability. Elizabeth Regen portrayed New York badass Louise with both a toughness and vulnerability that made her incredibly fascinating to watch. Alexandra Vino played the bar's resident promiscuous floozy, Caroline, like a champ.
Dario Torres (Jig) and Zachary Mooren (Guy) performed one of the better fight scenes I have witnessed on stage (fight choreography by Mike Mahaffey). It wasn't so much a "fight scene" as it was Torres punching Mooren in the face, but those punches were believable enough that you could feel the audience wince as each one connected.
Lynn Sher (Aisleen, the bartender) did a great job standing quietly behind the bar for the hour. At one point towards the middle of the show, she sang us a nice song and accompanied herself on the guitar. She has a sweet voice, excellent guitar skills, and some really awesome tattoos. Matty Daniell (Samuel, the imaginary boyfriend), played the part of a meek "nice guy". He did a great job personifying the perfect boyfriend. He also has really cool hair. Eddie Goines (John) played a very empathetic bistro shop owner. (Although I couldn't understand why his character kept chasing after Louise. He's way too good for her.) All in all, the cast was rock solid.
Who Should See It?
This Ode to Hell's Kitchen is a hazy heartwarming homage to the playwright's memory of the neighborhood she grew up in and once loved. The characters are well developed and entertaining, and I can see this having widespread appeal.
That being said, if you're looking for a strong narrative with a satisfying conclusion, this show might not be right for you.
This play features strong profanity, sexual situations, and violence. The recommended age is 18 plus.
How to See it
Where The Numbers End; A Hell's Kitchen Love Tragedy runs Saturday nights through June 10th at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks. Tickets are $22 and can be purchased here.
Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.
Photo Credits: James Sprague