Review by Brittany Crowell
Bernie loves Elvis and her brother, Mikey. Mikey is stuck in a dead-end job in the Chicago suburbs, where he lives with Bernie and his parents. Bernie’s parents are struggling to rebuild their family after the tragic illness twenty years ago that changed everything.
Strangemen Theatre Company’s Bernie and Mikey’s Trip to the Moon, directed by Claire Karpen, is a heartfelt piece about family, love, and how we take care of each other. Actor, Scott Aiello, makes his playwriting debut in this very personal piece at 59E59 Theaters, showing his writing chops in in his characters’ sincerity, as he takes a deeper look at a suburban Chicago family whose daughter contracted a relatively unknown illness as a young child and suffered severe brain damage. Now in her twenties, Bernie is cared for by her brother and her parents.
Throughout the narrative, we get an inside look at the family’s relationship to Bernie and each other. There’s Mike Vincolo Sr (played by a devilishly believable Jordan Lage), the patriarch, whose crude language and story of his brutal murder of the family pet sets up the character’s arc towards a disappointingly predictable reconciliation moment with his daughter at the end of the piece. There’s Bernie’s mother (played by the quiet but powerful Margo Singaliese), who gives stability and routine to the family, providing maternal love for all. And there’s Uncle Ski (played by the spry Stephen D’Ambrose), the least developed of the three, who tells an interesting, but irrelevant tale about beating young Frank Sinatra for flirting with his lady back in his high school glory days.
We also meet Laura (played by the sincere Ismenia Mendes), a co-worker and love interest of Mikey’s, who is in an abusive relationship with another employee of their greasy restaurant and who turns down Mikey’s advances in a surprising way, quite satisfyingly turning the usual trope of romantic sub-plots on its head. In the second act, we finally get to meet Jeff Goldblum, merely a voice on the answering machine in the first act, who is played byBenjamin Rosloff, a charming young actor who performs the character with earnest.
The true strength of the story, however, is in the relationship between brother Mikey and his sister, Bernie, and the story’s main journey towards Mikey’s realization that while he’d been trying to take care of his sister, he was the one who was relying on her care all along. Stephanie Gould and Forrest Malloy lead the ensemble cast in these roles, performing with intimacy, nuance, and strength. Both Gould and Malloy are amazing performers who welcome you into the story and, as if holding your hand, carry you with them throughout.
The small but detailed set by James Ortiz was expertly used, seamlessly and clearly transforming an outdoor porch into a kitchen into a bar. Sound Designer Sam Kusnetz brought us in and out of scenes with Bernie’s beloved Elvis, helping further transport us into her world.
Despite one or two problematic jokes, mostly from comments made by the differently-abled character, Jeff Goldblum, Aiello handles all characters within the piece with a large amount of love and sensitivity. It is difficult to write a piece that so centers on characters of differing abilities, but I think Aiello’s characters are each crafted with love and invite the audience to fall in love with the Vincolo family as they learn from each other and struggle to find new ways to care for each other.
BERNIE AND MIKEY’S TRIP TO THE MOON – Written by Scott Aiello; directed by Claire Karpen
WITH – Stephanie Gould (Bernadette “Bernie” Vincolo / Gina LaMontagna); Margo Singaliese (Gladys Vincolo); Forrest Mallo (Michael “Mikey” Vincolo, Jr.); Jordan Lage (Michael Vincolo, Sr.); Ismenia Mendes (Laura); Stephen D’Amrose (Charles “Ski” Bodanski); Benjamin Rosloff (Jeff Goldblum)
Sets by James Ortiz; costumes by Izzy Fields; lighting by Cecilia Durbin; sound by Sam Kusnetz; assistant lighting design by Kathrine R. Mitchell; casting by Paul Davis of Calleri Casting, CSA. Produced by Strangement Theatre Company: Amanda A. Lederer, Frank Winters, Jamez Ortiz, Jason Ralph, Rebecca Black, and Will Gallacher producing directors; Amanda A. Lederer, general manager; Rebecca Key, technical director; Megan Lang, master electrician; Toria Sterling, props master; Amanda A. Lederer, production manager; Scott Aiello, dialect coah; Kristin M. Herrick, production stage manager. At 59E59 Theater B (59 East 59th Street); www.59e59.org; (646) 892-7999; Through December 2. Running time: 2 hours, one 10 minute intermission.