A Stone Carver
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
July 23, 2006
While the issue of eminent domain triggers the turbulent journey in playwright William Mastrosimone's A Stone Carver, it is the volcanic family dynamic—both familiar and horrifying—that drives the play like a spike into the hearts of the audience. Cast, script, and direction work in unison to make this performance—one that is not without many warm, comedic moments—worthy of a long, extended run.
The story opens when a town's plan to ease traffic includes building an off-ramp that will claim a number of residential houses. The last holdout belongs to an elderly Sicilian stone carver, who built his home with his own hands. Hunkered down with a shot gun and ammo, Agostino's windows are boarded, his phone disconnected, and his door chain-locked against the police and the bulldozer, both of which he expects at any moment.
Instead, his son Raff arrives with his fiancée, Janice, whom Agostino has not met. This is something of an occasion since Raff doesn't visit, and from the first knock, it becomes apparent why. On this particular day, Raff is clear about why he is back in the house in which he grew up, suffering the reopening of every wound ever inflicted by a father who cared too much. Their differences pit old country against new, traditional values against a changing society, and memories against the cold present. But, really, the play is about loss—loss of a wife he loved too much, loss of family traditions, and the impending loss of his home. "I leave this house," he tells his son, "I lose your mother again." Janice provides the cool salve and clear eyesight necessary to reduce tempers to a simmer. With her help and Mastrosimone's insightful script, Raff and Agostino bring the play to a logical, if difficult, close, but not without at least one tear from the audience.
A standing ovation goes to Dan Lauria for discovering the heart and soul of the old stone carver. He inhabits a man who lives by the visceral intensity of his beliefs. He is an artist and a man of the earth. There is never a doubt about where he stands, only surprise at how far he will go to establish his feeling of betrayal by his son, who has walked away from 17 generations of stone carving to set up his own construction business.
Jim Iorio's Raff receives the blows, both physical and psychological, by vacillating between the childlike victim he once was and the modern adult. Iorio allows his character to subtly mature, accepting a shift in the parent/child relationship and acknowledging the responsibility that is now his.
The character of Janice, played by Elizabeth Rossa, straddles two worlds. She looks all new world, but understands what motivates her future father-in-law. She is the only one who has ever noticed the similarity between the face in Agostino's sculpture and the picture of his wife. Janice stands as buffer and translator between father and son. Because she is not yet family, she is able to ignore insults where they don't count and stand up to Agostino when they do. It is only when she becomes coquettish toward the end that she loses credibility.
Mastrosimone has written a fine-tuned, psychologically-precise, breathtakingly honest script about family. Using the whole theatre as his stage, Robert Kalfin directs with a keen eye for emotional detail. Nathan Heverin's set adds to the wrenching tenor. As the play progresses, its decline reflects not only an old home that hasn't been updated, but the death of the wife and mother. Beautiful lighting by Josh Bradford distinguishes between memory and the present. Following Kalfin's lead, sound designer Austin Duggan also uses the whole theatre to excellent effect. Adding their touches to this magnetic drama are Gail Cooper-Hecht, costume designer, and B.H. Barry, fight director.