By Michael Landes, Contributing Writer
Lorinne Vozoff and Eduardo Machado are no freshly-minted BFA graduates, trying to make their mark for the first time on a New York stage. Rather, they are veterans of the theater, with many credits to each of their names, and the experience that they bring to the stage is clear in the three new one-act plays performed under the title “Life Masks” at Theater for the New City. The first two, “What’s Mine” and “Speak to Me,” are both written by Vozoff, and the third, “Acting,” is by Machado. The three make a well-assembled trio on theater, acting and age.
Vozoff’s two pieces are both in pairs. In the first, two old friends meet in a dressing room where one congratulates the other’s performance, and in the second, a chance meeting on a park bench. Both pairs reminisce about a shared past, with the looming suggestion of dementia in “Speak to Me” threatening this ability to remember. The play is closer to drama than the comedic “What’s Mine,” in which the two old friends reflect on stealing each other’s lovers throughout the years, traveling through France and Italy and finding dozens of men to sleep with along the way.
The direction, also by Vozoff, is exemplary in its ability to recede into the background and allow the text and characters to shine through, keeping the stage interesting without interrupting the action with unnecessary flourishes. The scripts themselves were not particularly flashy, nor did they strive to be. In this, they served their purpose well. For the audience member seeking out plays that will transform the limits of theater as they know it, this may not be the first show on your list; but for those looking to watch classic American realist plays, this production is aimed at you.
Machado’s play, “Acting,” also remains firmly within the American tradition, but unlike Vozoff, he fixes time and place in 1920s Pittsburgh in order to portray an imagined meeting between the great stage actresses Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. The women are both nearing the end of their careers and lives. Despite the rich source material and provocative concept of a rivalry between the two thanks to their love for Gabriele D’Annunzio, the Italian writer who penned plays for both of them, this play mainly stays within the lines set by Vozoff’s works — realist dialogue with some interesting moments of soliloquy, and a conversation on the art of acting between the two actresses that does not fully realize its potential.
Machado and Vozoff are both undoubtedly experienced and knowledgeable playwrights, and this ability shines through in their work on “Life Masks.” But there is no doubt that their formidable skill could shine even brighter in other, more fully realized projects.