nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
July 24, 2008
Eugenio is ostensibly based on the life of Rabbi Israel Zolli, a rabbi living in Rome during the Holocaust who was on friendly enough terms with several priests that they offered to shelter him in the Vatican. While in hiding, Zolli claimed to have experienced a "mystic vision" of Jesus, converted to Catholicism—to the chagrin of his former congregation—and spent the rest of his life teaching at a Jesuit university. Zolli's life would indeed make for a fascinating work, but Eugenio departs wildly from the tale, to its detriment.
Playwright Anthony Gallo muddles the plot by introducing three separate subplots—far too many for a one-hour play. Among the threads, we have the story of Monsignor Hillary, a German priest who loses his faith altogether; Major Schmidt, a Nazi officer who pursues Zolli until another "mystical vision" stops him; and Sister Angelina, a feisty nun determined to win over her enemies through sheer loveability Trying to introduce so many other stories in such a short play just ends up giving all of them short shrift. There's even a last-minute twist in the last two minutes of the play, where Sister Angelina suddenly confesses to a cruel deed from her past—and then the play just ends, leaving us all wondering what to DO with that information.
On top of that, Gallo also seems to be trying to speak about forgiveness—characters frequently seek it or urge each other to offer it. Zolli asks his housekeeper to forgive someone. Hillary urges Zolli to forgive God. No one wants to forgive Schmidt. Forgiveness is an admirable topic, but Zolli's life doesn't illustrate it too well, so many of these scenes—which make up most of the play—feel shoehorned into the story.
The performances, sadly, are themselves also too uneven to pull cohesion out of the script. Some actors speak in monotones, others lapse into histrionics. Accents fade in and out. Director Roland Gomez seems to have just let the cast flounder through this confused script.
Even some of the production elements are distractions rather than enhancements. Throughout the play, a narrator sits just offstage, reciting the time and setting of each scene—"Rabbi Zolli's room, September 1943." "Monsignor Hillary's office, that same evening." I was baffled why this was necessary, since this information was already in my program. Then I got even more distracted when I noticed that frequently the program and the narrators' recitations didn't even match! Gomez also chooses to actually depict both Zolli and Schmidt's "mystical visions," by hitting the actor with a spotlight, and having him freeze in awe and then fall to his knees as spectral music plays. Rather than appearing mystical, the effect comes across as a camp distraction.
Eugenio seem confused and under-prepared; the script especially so. Gallo seems to have decided to just keep adding more detail rather than developing one story.