Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Julia is a Lovely Journey

Julia, now playing at 59e59 Theaters as part of their Americas Off Broadway, is a vibrant exploration of love and regret. It takes a simple story and brings it to the personal level, with immediacy, honesty and restraint.

The story is deceptively simple and relatable. As a young man, without family, Lou Perino worked at a local Pennsylvania department story with Julia. Lou developed a crush, as young men do, but doesn’t act on it for fear of being embarrassed or turned down or given the “we’re just friends” speech. Julia opens years later, as Lou returns to Philadelphia to watch the store be torn down. But Lou is here for more than that. He has returned to see Julia, the girl he left behind.

The cast is wonderful while bringing these characters to life. Richard Fancy plays Lou Perino, bringing a touch of humor to the role which could easily fall into the maudlin. Mr. Fancy plays the big scenes well, but he really excels in the tiny emotional tics that make the character so real. Lou left Philadelphia when he drafted into the Korean War. He is heartsick at leaving Julia – but hasn’t spoken to her since.

Keith Stevenson plays Julia’s son, Steve. Steve’s transformation from a mildly bemused and annoyed small time con man to a furiously angry son is quick, but understandable once we see what has become to Julia. Julia is now an old lady, her memory long gone. Lou becomes a focus of Steve’s anger at everything that has gone wrong with his mother’s life.

Haskell Vaughn Anderson III plays Frank, an African American who bridges the emotional gap between Lou and Steve. Frank worked with Julia and Lou at the Department store all those years ago, and stayed friends with Julia and her family ever since. He has been with the family through Julia’s husband’s death – and while Steve was growing up. It is Frank who champions Lou’s cause to Steve, even after Lou’s real motive comes out. Mr. Anderson’s is a wonderfully nuanced performance – capturing the motivations of friendship and the hint of historical deferential politeness in his interaction with Lou.

Midway through the show, we see what occurred between young Lou and Julia. It is written and performed beautifully, with a catch in your throat at the moment a minor wrong occurs. The actual transgression isn’t much, but it raises a barrier between these two young people. A moment that grows bigger in distance, as embarrassment, regret and distance multiply the infraction. Finally, the memory of the argument, so much worse than the action of it, change the trajectories of Julia’s and Danny’s lives. Justin Preston and Marley McClean bring the moment to life perfectly.

When we finally meet Julia, she is a shell of who she once was. The older Julia is played by Roses Prichard, who is extremely believable as the lost old woman that was once a vibrant and fun loving young girl. Her turns of annoyance, wonder and playfulness ring true.

Julia is a very touching work by playwright Vince Melocchi. It is written with the conviction that the little, almost incidental, acts of youth can haunt us for a lifetime, if we let them. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos gives the play enough time to get comfortable, and then lets some moments linger too long, to make the audience uncomfortable. It is a commendable job that invests the audience in the outcome. Julia is a heartfelt tribute to life and love, and a reminder to keep living it.
Julia (tickets and website)
Playwrite: Vince Melocchi
Director: Guillermo Cienfuegos
Cast: Haskell Vaughn Anderson III, Richard Fancy, Marley McClean, Justin Preston, Roses Prichard and Keith Stevenson,

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