Unusual Acts of Devotion
West Coast Premiere
by Terrence McNally
La Jolla Playhouse
June 2-June 28, 2009
Harriet Harris as Josie Shelton, Richard Thomas as Chick Hogan. Photo: Craig Schwartz.
La Jolla Playhouse is opening its 2009-2010 season with Terrence McNally’s new play Unusual Acts of Devotion, in which a handful of neighbors find refuge from a hot evening on their Greenwich Village rooftop. A night of past secrets, present fears and lurking dangers unfolds, all justified by unfulfilled desires and acts of compassion. These characters know each other well and share a rich history together, yet they are in many ways strangers to themselves, still learning how to walk the tight rope of life.
Unusual Acts of Devotion opened last year in Philadelphia and since has gone through significant revisions. Preeminent playwright Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, The Full Monty) wanted to take a fresh look at it with a new director and he chose Trip Cullman for the job. Emmy Award-winner Doris Roberts (Everybody loves Raymond) plays the role of Mrs. Darnell, a building veteran who doesn’t hesitate to show her displeasure at the company of her young neighbors, with the exception of Leo who knows the way to her heart: leg massages. Joe Manganiello is Italian stud Leo, celebrating his fifth year wedding anniversary, rooftop style, with Nadine, played by Maria Dizzia. Together, they convince their friend Chick to join the party. The character of Chick is interpreted by Emmy winner Richard Thomas (John-Boy in TV’s The Waltons), who was part of the original Philadelphia production. Tony Award-winner Harriet Harris as troubled soul Josie dominates the evening. Harris is now a favorite of the main stage at La Jolla Playhouse, where she was seen in Thoroughly Modern Millie and more recently in Cry Baby. In Unusual Acts of Devotion, she proves once more to our southern California audiences that she is one of the best actresses out there. To complete the cast, Evan Powell plays the role of a killer on the loose, adding suspense and mystery to the plot of the play. The artistic team includes set designer Santo Loquasto, costume designer Jess Goldstein, lighting designer Ben Stanton and sound designer John Gromada.
Unusual Acts of Devotion is a carefully orchestrated one act ensemble play, where tragedy and happiness, love and pain tango to the beat of different music tunes the characters select. It offers us a slice of life, reminding us that coexistence is not so simple after all. Just as when we play with magnets and desperately try to join their repelling poles, each character struggles to find how much of themselves they can give without offending the others. Their choices reflect Cupid’s good intentions, but reveals his clumsy aim and ill-timed strikes.