nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
Upon watching Julie Tortorici’s Belly one is suddenly struck by
just how seldom a real connection is made between the audience and the
performers of most one-person shows. Rarely does one feel that it is you
who is actually spoken to, or that it is anything more than a theatrical
device. That’s what makes Belly such a rare gem. Tortorici not
only really speaks to the audience, but really listens as well, and she
does it with astonishing simplicity and grace.
August 15, 2003
Tortorici, who both wrote and stars in this wonderful piece, has created a character who is neither particularly intelligent nor should be particularly interesting. Frannie’s life story is not remarkable, and while she is recovering from a heartbreaking tragedy, that tragedy is not unique or even all that rare. On the surface there is really no reason to take much interest in her at all.
But by establishing a true and reciprocal connection with her listeners, Tortorici is able to make you empathize with Frannie on a level that catches you by surprise. You find yourself understanding what makes this ordinary woman quirky, fun, and special. And unlike most one-person shows, this is no retrospective on how she got to where she is, forever to remain that way once the lights go down. Instead, this is a person whose journey is not done, and we are asked to help in her attempt at a spiritual rebirth. By the end of the show we are praying that she succeeds because the world would be a better place with her in it.
That you end up laughing with Frannie’s joy and empathizing with her sorrow is not for me what makes Belly so special. What is so exceptional is that by being invited into the piece so directly, a connection is formed not just between audience and performer, but also between every person in the room. Belly not only leaves you pondering your humanity and compassion, but actually challenges you to elevate them both, in the room and in the moment, thereby creating a theatrical event shared by all. That Tortorici and director J. Brandon Thompson achieve so much more than most others with seemingly so little is due to their talent, integrity, and courage. This is true theatre magic of the most rare and profound kind. Everyone involved with Belly should be very, very proud.