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Theater: Fraternal Instinct
2007-04-11

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Playwright: Tony Fiorentino

At: Diamante Productions at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport

Phone: 773-935-6860; $18

Runs through: May 6

BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE

Our play opens in a nondescript fourth-floor apartment where two brothers are writing a play—rather, brother Carter is writing and brother Joel is critiquing. The work-in-progress recounts the trials of a Vietnam War veteran recovering from physical and psychological injuries sustained in combat. Since Joel is the actor who is to portray this flawed—ah, but always sympathetic—hero, he is understandably particular about the character's fate. Oh, did I mention that Joel himself uses a wheelchair? And that his playwright sibling was driving the car the night of the accident that left his lower body paralyzed?

Author Tony Fiorentino's first two plays ( which I have not seen ) were marketed as domestic gender-relationship comedies, but with this, his third effort, he turns to serious topics as he explores the dynamic between two men who are already jealous of one another and suddenly confronted by guilt, uncertainty and all the deep-seated unconscious motives associated with this staple of a TV drama. True to the genre, there's also a fiancée that Joel fears will desert him, and a therapist he resents for her refusal to acknowledge the ruin of his career/happiness/hopes for a productive life. ( Where is Susan Nussbaum or Mitch Longley when you need them? )

All right, it's not Home Of The Brave, or even Born On The Fourth Of July—prototypes inadvertently invoked by anachronistic references that impair the credibility of the youthful characters in this Diamante production, however plausible within the context of the universe they presently occupy. ( Why is the play-within-a-play about a Vietnam vet instead of a Persian Gulf vet? Why does he suffer from 'shell shock' and not 'delayed stress syndrome?' And when someone says 'it's a surprise,' Joel snaps, 'So was Pearl Harbor!' Just how old ARE these people, anyway? )

All that said, however, Fiorentino's knack for creating engaging, if one-dimensional, characters conversing in fluent vernacular is noteworthy. And making his protagonist a crip, albeit a clueless one, reflects a certain daring. More experience should narrow the gap between content and craftsmanship for this fledgling writer. For now, able-bodied actor Andrew J. Pond is to be commended for his accurate replication of paraplegic body language, and a cast-against-type trio of supporting players likewise for endowing their familiar roles with a sturdy conviction under Brandy Austin's capable direction.


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