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A CurtainUp Review

In Spite of Myself and Origins of Happiness
By Amanda Cooper

Urban Stages is dedicated to producing new theatrical works and new theatrical voices. Thus, having two veteran performers showcase their new solo shows in repertory fits their mission perfectly. Antionette LaVecchia and Felix A. Pire are Italian-American and Cuban-American, respectively. Their one-acts explore their cultures mainly through the prominent female figures in their families.

In Spite of Myself
A solo show's difficulties are often taken for granted. The idea of only one person holding an audience's attention for the entire performance is daunting and many performers compensate by portraying multiple characters. From the get-go Antionette LaVecchia begins with dialogue, portraying her mother, and herself still in utero. As the show progresses, she and her mother quickly become the central characters, with samplings of others (such as a never-was Italian actress, and LaVecchia's rebellious vagina).

LaVecchia is a stellar actress. She provides the audience with carefully layered caricatures, balancing the quirky with the poignant. She holds the audience's attention throughout the hour. As a writer, her going off into tangents sometimes defies good reason and adds a cloud of confusion over her motives and the overall timeline.

The direction, by Jesse Berger, wavers between creative and saturated. A bright red folding chair happily cameos as a tree and as a bed, but at times the talented LaVecchia becomes overly ornate in her gestures, and her physical busyness becomes corny. The set and lights are perfectly understated; providing great effect without distraction. There is nothing new about exploring the impact of a person's family on their life, but it is a topic society is forever interested in. After all, who doesn't enjoy learning that every family has its dysfunctional qualities? Unfortunately, LaVecchia seems to not dig too deep into her relationship with her mother, or her Italian heritage. In fact, the most interesting scenes are when she provides some Italian culture backstory by portraying a professor teaching "How to be a good Italian daughter", and a failed Italian movie actress finally debuting in America.

Origins of Happiness
Here again, Urban Stages scores with a strong actor to fill out this repertory. Felix A. Pire knows how to entertain and imitate. As he relays, he even once made his eighth grade math teacher pee in her pants from laughing at his imitation of her teaching. Pire reaches into his Cuban family to explore his relationship with mother and grandmother, as well as father and brother.

Pire is full of energy which reverberates throughout the theater and resonates with the audience. However, i t is this same energy that also throws the script in too many directions, not giving clear paths from one flashback to the next. Just about every memory is told with the right balance of detail and action, informing the audience about another aspect of Pire's childhood. The overall effect of a confusing jumble of endearing, sweet, and hysterical moments.

Projected slides give concrete images for the various family members and Florida environment. A brightly colored stage floor and blocks of scrim give off an appropriate Cuban-Floridian aesthetic, again confirming the strong design team working on both shows. Angel David's directing is light and whimsical, allowing Pire the freedom on which his free-form style can thrive.

Despite the lack of text structure, the touching universality of Pire's family comes through. Their tough love-tight family approach to life allows for belly laughs and warm fuzzies.

In Spite of Myself
Written and Performed by Antionette LaVecchia
Directed by Jesse Berger
Set Design: Andy Hall
Lighting Design:Josh Epstein
Costume Design: Luca Mosca
Sound Design: Johnna Doty
Running Time 1 hour

Origins of Happiness
Written and Performed by Felix A. Pire
Set Design: Andy Hall
Lighting Design: Josh Epstein
Costume Design: Nadia Fadeeva
Sound Design: Johnna Doty
Running time 1 hour 15 minutes

Urban Stages at 259 West 30th Street (between 7th and 8th), 212-868-4444
Shows run in Repertory September 3rd through September 28th
In Spite of Myself: Wed-Fri at 8PM and Sat at 2PM
Origins of Happiness: Sat-Tues at 8PM and Sun at 2PM
Tickets are $15
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on Sept 6th and 9th performances

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