Brighton Fringe 2017
Good Grief: Stories at 207 West 88th
The Divine Miss T
Genre: Solo Show
Festival: Brighton Fringe
There are acknowledgments at the bottom of Terianne Falcone’s programme for ‘Good Grief’, and the last couple are for –
Spesh tank Amy Sutton for give ‘and with poster handa fly design. She’sa veddi goo’. Send he-mail if you wanna do biz widda ‘er : firstname.lastname@example.org
Halso Bev Wills from Stone ‘Air Salon (36 Blatchington Road, Hove) makea my ‘air beautif. Shesa veddi goo’ widda ‘air. She homosexch. Lady homosexch. Dat why she good widda ‘air.
There’s no possible way I could get away with writing lines like those – I’d be crucified for ethnic and sexual stereotyping – but I can do it here because those are Terianne’s words, and that’s just how she sounds in her show. She’s written, and performs, an Italian-American character from New York: the superintendent – in Europe we’d call it something between ‘concierge’ and ‘janitor’ – of her apartment block. Here’s how Bruna introduces herself, on the show’s flyer –
Buona Sera, heverybod! Whaddayado! My name his Bruna. Bruna Giannini. Like martini. I take care of de building West 88 Stree. I’m soup of the build. Hevery morn, hima geta my hassa hup to clean, do de recyc – whaddeve dere need to be do, hima do. Hand hima take care de peep, too. Hitsa my job, Eh!
Falcone’s American, with a deep, rich voice, and she’s picked up the register of Bruna’s speech very believably. It takes a little while to get used to her unusual vowel sounds, and to her habit of leaving off the last letters of words. Bruna keeps referring to Italy, where she was born, as ‘my cunt’ – which got a laugh each time she did it. It took a while to get used to the sheer chutzpah of the writing, too. The actor’s a natural as a comic, and she’s created a larger-than-life character in Bruna – there were gales of laughter all through ’Good Grief’.
Bruna’s a widow – her husband Bruno died last winter after slipping on a step outside their building that Bruna hadn’t completely cleared of ice. She feels it was her fault, although it was an accident, and tells people that – “I killed my husband by axe”. We never hear the shocked response to this admission – but that’s because this is a one-woman show and it’s just Falcone speaking. She’s a very accomplished actor, though, and she leaves just a long enough pause that we can create her listener’s wide-eyed stare and sharp intake of breath, for ourselves.
Terianne Falcone is very good indeed at pauses. There are nine short vignettes in this show and in the third one – ‘Sleepover’ – a woman called Emily is talking to friends about her late husband. He’s only been dead a month, and Emily is describing his mannerisms. “Harry always says”… and then she tails off into silence; that yawning gap between what was, and what is, and finally she gathers up her courage and starts again – “Harry always said”. So real, so painful, it brought tears to my eyes.
Nine sketches of New York life. Falcone says that they are all based on people she met while living in the city. And each of them is more than just a monologue, a soliloquy – these are actual scenes, with a character talking and responding to others. Four of them feature Bruna herself, the others are linked in some way – a lot of them live in the same building.
So at the start we see Bruna in church – she’s Catholic, of course – demanding that the priest give her a penance (she keeps referring to it as ‘penis’) of sufficient ‘Hail Mary’s to assuage her guilt over her husband’s death. – “Fifty ‘Hail Mary’s! Listen, Father. I wanna go to heaven. Give me a thousand”. Very simple staging on the small black-walled acting area of the Warren Theatre Box, just two folding chairs, set side by side with their backs towards us to make a pair of pews, and Bruna herself in a hairnet, wrapped up (it’s early on a cold morning) in a blue cardigan and a scarf.
Then she takes the chairs off, and comes back in a short while as a socially inept prospective tenant, undergoing the ordeal of trying to rent a room in someone’s apartment. A rather autistic, sheltered teacher with a pink Alice band and a little silver purse – “I have to spend evenings working on my lesson plan”. She’s terrified of the cats who live there – backs against the wall, afraid they’ll scratch her legs – “I should have got more emotionally prepared to meet the cats. Will I have to feed them?”. When she tries to make conversation – “Is that a Monet?”, there’s a perfectly timed pause and then – “Oh – your nephew”. At the end she asked, shyly, “So – do you think we’ll get along?”. I think we all knew …
Even the musicians knew. There’s music between each section, while the actor goes offstage to change costume and props. A jazzy trio, taking up the right half of the Theatre Box stage. They are Purple Pudding Clause, a talented family group – Rachel Lovell on cello, Steve Lovell on acoustic guitar and 15-year-old David Lovell on drums. Upbeat, yet slightly haunting music – beautifully performed pieces, but a little too loud and overlong to be a perfect fit with Falcone’s performance..
We meet the teacher again later, but by that time she’s in a taxi and it’s the driver who’s doing the talking. He’s a widower, eighty-six years old, with eleven children, and he cackles as he talks of getting married a second time, to his dead wife’s best friend, who’s ‘only’ seventy-four. He’d been in the war, a survivor of Pearl Harbour, for which he’s never forgiven Franklin Delano Roosevelt – “He knew! He knew the Japs were coming!”. He recounts horrific tales of atrocities by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines – “I had nightmares for years after”.
So Falcone can do dark as well as funny. The penultimate piece is very dark indeed – Falcone wraps herself in a blanket and hunches down in a chair as we hear the sound of a baby crying. The actor ages visibly, right in front of us, as she mumbles, sniffs and avoids eye contact with the police officers who’ve come to her apartment. She’s the only one that can hear the baby, though, and she gradually reveals a terrible truth. This is Edgar Allen Poe’s story ’The Beating Heart’ updated to West 88 Street. She too lived in Bruna’s building, and Bruna’s husband had long suspected that there was something suspicious about the woman’s acoustic hallucinations. As Bruna tells him when she visits his grave in the final piece – “You pretty smart, Bruno. Even if you dead”
You pretty smart too, Falcone! In just over an hour I felt I’d been given a close-up view of a selection of New Yorkers, in all their rich diversity – funny and moving, happy and sad. There isn’t room in this review to tell you every story – you’ll just have to go and meet them yourselves.