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The Aperture
38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko
part of
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The Aperture

The ever-blurry line between fantasy and reality is choice theatrical real estate that Sean Christopher Lewis adamantly respects in his new play, The Aperture. Coming to the New York International Fringe Festival from the Cleveland Public Theatre, this inaugural winner of the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award takes a harsh and intriguing, if sometimes overambitious, look at art, war, and why our perceptions often confuse the two.

Alex (Heather Anderson Boll) never publicly stated that her acclaimed photo of a young, heavily armed Ugandan boy named Okello John (Isaiah Isaac) wasn’t staged - it was taken in Baltimore, Maryland - but was perfectly willing to let people think it was. “That doesn’t make it any less real,” she insists about the photo which, after all, more or less represents what John’s life was like before he escaped Africa several years earlier. But Alex finds that her insistence that truth can exist outside of truthfulness isn’t one that everyone shares. John, in fact, slowly becomes a prisoner of Alex’s vision of him, and begins to behave as exactly the kind of caged animal that prisoners tend to become.

Lewis smartly weaves the action between the present, the recent past, and John’s African existence, creating a living, ever-shifting photomosaic of a relationship fraught with social, sexual, and psychological anxieties. (One of the ways Alex and John consummate their relationship is by referring to their automatic rifle as a “baby.”) Director Craig J. George has staged everything with a tightly controlled fluidity that never lets the black and white of Alex’s photos or her personal worldview to render Lewis’s play in dramatic gray scale. Not that that would be possible in any event: Boll is quietly fiery as Alex, making her intelligent and austere, but terrifying in the way she develops her justifications for he she speaks to both John and us; and if Isaac never quite matches Boll’s intensity, he nonetheless powerfully charts the rapid-fire erosion of John’s spirit that Alex unknowingly encourages.

Things degrade only when Lewis works too hard to impart his messages. A couple of “Keystone Kops” sequences, complete with nickelodeon-fast strobe lighting and broad-grimaced acting, never reconcile themselves stylistically with the rest of the show. And even for illustrating Alex’s hypocrisy on a national scale, does David Letterman really need to be a character? These digressions just don’t do enough to support the rest of the play which, in its structure and its specifics, needs no additional help to achieve the ideal Alex describes: “Good photos aren’t about you or the photographer, they’re about everyone else.” Reflections on America’s obsession with bleeding-heart realities, even at their most fake, are images strong enough images to be viewed unadorned through The Aperture’s dangerously polished lens.

The Aperture
55 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania


38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko

The story of Kitty Genovese, who in 1964 was murdered at her Kew Gardens apartment complex while her three dozen neighbors turned indifferent eyes and ears, is held up yet today as a crowning example of urban apathy. But Genovese's story had another side, which LuLu LoLo’s play, 38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love, is trying to bring to light. Unfortunately, any lasting significance that may be found in this production still seems to be lost in the dark.

LoLo’s show, which has been directed by Jody Oberfelder, recounts the murder from the perspectives of the New York Times editor, Abe Rosenthal, who insisted on covering the witnesses rather than Genovese; of the murderer himself, Winston Moseley; and finally Mary Ann Zielonko, Genovese’s girlfriend who, given the morality of the time, had to stay in the shadows as much as in the closet.

But though LoLo’s monologues are based on actual testimony and interviews, including Zielonko’s first-ever interview to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Genovese’s death, none of the people shed much new light on the incident. They basically just cover all the traditional outrages from slightly different vantage points, which is not in itself compelling. Zielonko, for instance, relates far more about early 1960s gay culture than she does about Genovese herself, which is interesting, but belongs more in another show. (Genovese was murdered not because she was gay, but because she was there.)

LoLo’s differentiation between her characters is subtle at best; she may occasionally change a costume piece, but her smoky-detached voice, straight-out delivery style, and (I’m sorry to say) occasional difficulty with her lines remain constant from one scene to the next. Four dance interludes, choreographed by Oberfelder and performed by Brynne Billingsley, Jake Szczypek, Shila Tirabassi, and Oberfelder herself, grant some sense of movement to an otherwise stiff and staid piece. But these meditations on crime scene chalk drawings, the dangers of conformity, and Genovese and Zielonko’s sex life illuminate little that hasn’t been said before, and better, elsewhere. The ultimate effect is that a show designed as a tribute to the overlooked Genovese instead makes her look as unremarkable as almost everyone else in the world.

38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko
50 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania