MEN ARE DOGS. It’s also the title of Old Academy’s last show. Despite the fact that he is, in fact, a man, playwright Joe Simonelli has a great ear for female grievances and dialogue. There are many laughs to be had here on the subject of relationships, but the tone never drifts into being mean spirited. Director Theresa Fries Bateman recognizes that each of the characters has a story that extends beyond the parameters of the play the silly moments are somehow still very real.
At the center of the story is Dr. Cecelia Monahan (Michele Scutti), a successful, if not particularly happy, relationship counselor. Scutti projects a surface confidence that explains her professional stature, yet also reveals her own undermining baggage. She feels like someone we are, or who we have met before. The assumption that all men are always to blame for failed relationships gives Cecelia a starting point that may just be working against her. Her room mate and mother, Rose (Chris Cutrufello), is a constant irritation and support. Cutrufello’s comic timing is both sincere and on the mark. She’s funny, but her Rose is very much a real person. Rose has seen difficult times, but she embraces a hopeful attitude the eludes her daughter.
Delivery man, Bob (Norm Burnosky) is the first man to enter the scene. Bob seems affable and not too deep and is initially dismissed by Cecelia. With repeat appearances, Burnosky presents a Bob who has more layers and more going on than just delivering boxes. Could he be that rare animal – a good man? Whereas Bob drifts into the action, Tony Rumson (Christopher Wunder) is invited in by the good doctor. The support group is set to meet on Thursday and Tony is recruited to help out. Rumson is easy going and unsuspecting, his Tony is charming and a little doltish and has no idea what he is in for.
Four women arrive for the group session. Newest member, Allison Taylor (Leah Lawler) is a hair stylist who has no clue how clueless she is. Lawler earns many laughs with Allison’s confident manner of expressing herself yet somehow not hearing what she is saying. She fits right in with the other ladies. Jane Rudolf (Marisa Block) is a nurse with an interesting history of unfortunate choices. Block has the fewest comic lines and is the most real of all the characters. Her hesitation and willingness to dive back into an unsatisfactory situation rings uncomfortably true. Madeline Weinberg (Tiffany Brink) is smart and funny and tired of men seeking her attention for the wrong reasons. She radiates intelligence and hides her disappointments behind sarcasm. Brink scored the biggest single laugh in the show with her dead pan, “How did she know?” at just the right moment. Last to arrive, Loretta Morris (Natalie Bonacci) is a little woman with a big chip on her shoulder. Whereas some of the others mask their feelings, Bonacci’s face shows that Loretta is sparring for a fight. She sparks one, and tiny as she is, this actress proves that you’d best not mess with this lady.
So everyone pairs up, meets the man of her dreams and lives happily ever after? Not quite. Relationship woes create great stories, and plenty to laugh about – in hindsight – but relationships are a gamble and require work and cultivation. One is left with the feeling that mistakes will still be made, but if these characters keep trying, who knows what good things could happen?
MEN ARE DOGS runs through May 7th. Old Academy, 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19129 (215) 843-1109.
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