Volume 81, Number 6 | July 7 - 13, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Dia De Los Muertos
Written by Anthony P. Pennino
Co-directed by Pennino and Alberto Bonilla
Spanish translations by Javier E. Gomez.
At Teatro Latea (at Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center)
107 Suffolk St., btw. Delancey and Rivington Sts.
July 13-31 (Wed.-Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 3pm)
For tickets ($18), call 212-868-4444
or visit smarttix.com
Visit teatrolatea.com and csvcenter.com

Photo by Ed Wheeler

Whip smart: The cast of “Dia De Los Muertos.”

Playwright Penninno conceives something new
Country Western meets Mexican Revolution

BY MARTIN DENTON (nytheatre.com)

Some great playwrights (Arthur Miller comes to mind) spend their careers battling a set of very specific demons — building a body of work that mostly explores the same set of issues, in different ways, over and over again.

Then there’s the kind of playwright who constantly shifts gears and lets his work take him down new and unexpected avenues. Such a playwright is Anthony P. Pennino — and if you don’t believe me, let me summarize some of his most recent works.

There’s “The Devil and Tom Walker” (with music by Rob Weiner-Kendt) — based on the same Washington Irving story that inspired Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” — which blends a savvy appreciation of politics, economics and philosophy with fun vintage Americana to create a delightfully accessible good-time musical comedy.

And then there’s “Story of an Unknown Man,” a darkly comic and breathtakingly imaginative play that blends an early story by Anton Chekhov with his life and work, yielding a dazzling bit of meta-theatre that is as enjoyable as it is smart.

And coming soon is Pennino’s newest opus, “Dia De Los Muertos” — a bilingual magic realist deconstructed Western set in Mexico during the 1916 revolution, featuring an Irish immigrant woman who becomes involved with a Mexican doctor. There will be, I am told, a whip fight. “Dia De Los Muertos” begins performances on July 13 at Teatro LaTea at Clemento Soto Vélez Cultural Center. (Disclaimer: I’ve been invited to host a talkback with Pennino, director/star Alberto Bonilla and others following the Sunday, July 17th matinee).

It’s not that Pennino is mercurial or flighty; rather, he’s a phenomenally intelligent, intellectual fellow with a seemingly unquenchable curiosity about, well, everything. He holds three degrees from Columbia University. Officially, he’s Doctor Pennino, thanks to his Ph.D. in Dramatic Literature from the University of London. His “day job” is as assistant professor in the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens Institute of Technology (where he teaches literature and theatre).

He has encyclopedic knowledge of all the dramatic classics, from Shakespeare to the Greeks to the Russians; and an extraordinarily deep experience in all aspects of theatre — not just playwriting, but directing, acting, producing, design and all that technical stuff that happens in sound and lighting booths. When a young woman of my acquaintance asked me to refer her to someone who could help her decide if she should try to make a career in theatre, Pennino graciously consented to have lunch with her...and she emerged from it, hours later, with a notebook (and head) full of facts and wisdom.

An inveterate collaborator, Pennino is constantly seeking out new talented artists to inspire him. For “Dia De Los Muertos,” he is working with Alberto Bonilla. How did an Italian-American playwright/scholar get together with a Honduran-born actor/director? “It was during the early years of the ‘East Village Chronicles’ [EVC] at the Metropolitan Playhouse,” Pennino confided. “It was our second outing, and Alberto came to audition. For ‘EVC,’ we use a small ensemble cast; so people have to play a number of different roles (and there is gender and race bending). Alberto’s principal role was as a Cuban émigré who was haunted by his past and was building a boat to sail back to Havana. However, he also played an Irish serving girl in a pub (complete with red fright wig and fake bosoms). And he made such an impression on me as an actor, that the following year I cast him as Lucky Luciano in my play ‘Lucky.’ So the Latino/Italian cross-over has an honest start.”

Speaking of Metropolitan Playhouse (chronicled recently by me in these pages), Pennino has strong ties with that Alphabet City company. But he’s been associated with many other troupes over the years, from Gorilla Repertory Theatre back in the 1990s, to Pilot House, the “atrainplays” at Neighborhood Playhouse and, most recently, Core Creative Productions. Two of his plays have been published by The New York Theatre Experience, Inc. (NYTE), and three others by Playscripts. Pennino will also be part of the launch of NYTE’s brand new publishing endeavor, Indie Theater Now, starting in August.

Right now, of course, he’s focused on his Irish-Mexican political Western, which features a large cast (Ariel Bonilla, Ryan Wesley Brown, Javier E. Gomez, Eevin Hartsough, Elizabeth Inghram, Ydaiber Orozco, Michael Poignand, Robert C. Raicch, Maria Sherranz, Alexander Stine and Adyana de la Torre, in addition to Alberto) and looks to be as eclectic and ambitious as any of Pennino’s other work. Like the pairing of plays about the contemporary American experience of war and peace (“Meditations on North America” and “The Long, Twilight Struggle”)...or the one about two actors stuck in a regional production of “Waiting for Godot” (“Toby”)...or the one about early 20th-century American progressive leader Florence Kelley (“Children’s Crusader”).

Whatever you think he won’t try to tackle next will be exactly what he’ll take on. Anthony P. Pennino is a true maverick in the best sense of the term, and his diverse and always surprising career in indie theatre constantly keeps us guessing...and wanting more.

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