Lue McWilliams (left) as Lucy; Katherine Williams as Ray
Mark Finley shepherds tale of sexually scrambled daughters
Gutsy TOSOS a good fit for Fringe
By Jerry Tallmer
There was a time when all over this town you saw signs or scribbles or chalkings that read: SILENCE = DEATH. Even before those years of the Plague in 1974, to be exact three young men of talent got together to launch TOSOS (short for The Other Side of Silence), a professional theater company that would defy death by breaking silence on all matters non-heterosexual.
They were playwright Doric Wilson, cabaret star Billy Blackwell, director Peter dell Valle and their TOSOS lasted more or less until the Plague started killing off audiences, playwrights, directors and performers.
It also, directly or indirectly, killed off Joe Cino proprietor of the famous unknown Caffe Cino on Cornelia Street where Doric Wilson, among many, many others (a huge roster headed by Lanford Wilson and Terrence McNally) first won his artistic spurs.
Doric Wilson is still around and so is Mark Finley, one generation up, a director who with fellow director Barry Childs plus Wilson himself eight years ago re-started TOSOS and have kept it whirling, and winning awards, ever since.
Its latest output is And Sophie Comes Too, an astringent GLBT comedy by Meryl Cohn.
Why does everyone have to hurt my feelings by saying that they shouldnt say something in front of me? demands salty old Sophie (actress Jaqueline Sydney), who has spent much of the first half of the play in bed in a coma, while all sorts of highly explicit perhaps overly explicit discussions and actions have been going on all around her among her three sexually scrambled daughters.
Wendy Wassersteins The Sisters Rosensweig this is not. The sisters Abramowitz this is. Barbara (Elizabeth Whitney), an uncloseted lesbian who is hellbent to enrich her existence by adopting a little girl from China; boyish, shorthaired Ray, formerly Sandra (Katherine Williams) a transsexual who has already crossed the surgical great divide from female to male, complete with girlfriend; and middle sister Rose (Birgit Darby), the up-tightest of the trio a Connecticut suburbanite who per se of course deserves all the tsouris she is heir to.
I am the hippest person in the room! exclaims the revivified mama of them all. I can talk about orgasms with anyone. And ever since I came out of the coma, I am multi-orgasmic!
A polar opposite to Sophie, at least through the first half of the play, is Lucy (Lue McWilliams), the prim proper social worker who is to decide whether Barbara is or is not the right kind of person to take over as a mother to that tot in China. Then, suddenly, inexplicably except maybe in porno comic strips the personality of uptight Lucy does an instantaneous 180-degree compass swing, and the poor frantic woman cannot be dragged out of noisy, sweaty copulation for the duration of the goings-on.
If this is intended as a dramatic commentary on straight sex, it is perhaps not the, forgive me, most penetrating of arguments.
Be that as it may. To put on a play like And Sophie Comes Too (theres a pun in there, theres a pun in there!) takes a good bit of guts, and TOSOS is to be respected for doing its job. Part of director Mark Finleys job was made easier by the enthusiasm of literary adviser Kathleen Warnock who administers play readings that all too often, in Finleys words, just scratch the surface of a script.
With this one, she and I both thought it good enough to submit to The Fringe.
When Finley and Doric Wilson and Barry Childs brought TOSOS back into the world, Finley saw its initial goal as to revive some classic American plays from the Cino that had fallen out of the canon.
One play in particular Finley has already brought back in a couple of 2006 mountings at The Duplex on Sheridan Square: Lanford Wilsons brilliant, seething The Madness of Lady Bright, built around a female impersonators mounting hysteria as he contemplates his other self in a large makeup mirror.
This journalist and critic most vividly remembers his own first visit to the Caffe Cino in the 1960s, and the shock of recognition, that night, of both a stunning, almost Tennessee Williams-level new talent in playwright Wilson, and a remarkable high-pressure actor named Neil Flanagan.
The recent Duplex reincarnations, says director Finley, went great, and culminated in an evening when Lanford Wilson and [Circle Rep co-founder] Marshall Mason attended and took part in a Q&A afterward.
Mark Finley was born June 22, 1963, in Indianapolis, Indiana, came out of the North Carolina School of the Arts, Winston Salem, in 1987, and that fall headed straight to New York to be an actor.
But I discovered I spent most of my time trying to get jobs i.e., roles and when I got the jobs I didnt like them. And then I discovered I could still be in the theater and not have to be on stage.
Does TOSOS have a base, a headquarters, one enquired.
No base. We roam around. Money being what it is, we grab spaces when we can get them. And here we are, going into our ninth season.
Joe Cino would dig it, absolutely.