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Linda Lerner

Review of Love is a Bad Neighborhood
by Francine Witte
and presented by Miller-Coffman Productions
(12/4—12/9 2018 at Shelter Studios,
Theatre 54, 12th floor, 244 W 54th St. NYC

This well staged allegorical drama, utilizing rhyme, includes characters named, Sister Pain, Sister Joy, and The Love Doctor, as in a 15th century morality play, to explore the neighborhood of love. A place where danger lurks at every step, people are mugged, hurt, and don’t always survive, is also undergoing gentrification. So, the arc swings across centuries to our own times without ever nearing a peace accord.

The emotional struggle in love is often portrayed through physical confrontation. The impact on the audience is immediate. While those scenes feel unrelenting at times, they nevertheless leave the audience sitting at the edge of their seats. There is no fourth wall. The love doctor (Johnny Blaze Leavitt) who first addresses us, does away with it when he introduces the play; asides by the actors are continuously directed to the audience. A stand out among an equaly impressive cast, he keeps re-appearing leading us in and out of the intricacies of love, to no avail.

Directed by S.Scott Miller, the pain/joy duality of love is evidenced in both its simple staging with three chairs in the center and a small table on either side of the stage for pain and joy. The lighting evokes a time between night & day, subtly alternating between one and the other.

If at times Shipsey’s (Sister Pain) words aren’t always clearly enunciated, they also enhance her character’s dependency on alcohol and other stimulants to survive love’s battles. Susan Ly’s (Sister Joy) high-pitched voice often acts the same way transcending unheard warnings of future pain as she delights in the joys of love. Both women are fighting over Tag (Michael Bordwell), whose name signifies a kind of tagging game taking place in a ‘now you’re it’ child’s play with adult consequences.

The audience leaves the theatre having undergone a cathartic experience that won’t soon be forgotten, to eagerly await Francine Witte’s next play.