Monday, March 24, 2008

Mixed bag in NY Times review of "The Poor Itch"

This picture was huge, five columns in width on a six-column page, but The New York Times review was not fully positive, calling the late John Belluso's "The Poor Itch" an "unachieved play." The review said, "Mr. Belluso had not resolved central questions of structure, plot and style when he died, and definitive choices have not been made for him. . . .'The Poor Itch' remains sketchy and unfulfilled, despite the fine work of Mr. Thornton and the rest of the cast."

Having seen the play March 14, I disagree that the play is "sketchy" because I think some of the power of the play comes from its unfinished feel, which enhances the audience's view into the tormented -- and unfinished -- inner life of the main character, Ian, a disabled Iraq war veteran.

The play is the last work of acclaimed disabled playwright, John Belluso, who died in 2006. In an innovative approach speaking to its unfinished nature, "The Poor Itch" featured some scenes performed twice with completely different approaches. Cast members read stage direction between some scenes and signaled when a scene was still unwritten.

The NY Times review did find a number of good aspects to the play and commented positively on this repeated scene technique in the play: "They have succeeded in infusing a cobbled-together text with authentic theatricality."

Taken as an unfinished work, I found "The Poor Itch" to be powerful and poignant. Due to the ongoing Iraq war, I suspect that Belluso might have sharpened the focus of the play even more on the disabled veteran character had he had the chance. Ian's drug-addled friends seemed a less important narrative than Ian's journey to come to terms with his disability and the horrors he saw in Iraq.

But the true sadness infused throughout the play while watching it comes from the reminder that American culture has lost a brilliant playwright like John Belluso.