Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 16, 2022

Jillian Cicalese and Adam Belvo
Photo by Sara Fellini
Playwright Sara Fellini has a penchant for death and for the dead, a proclivity she has previously indulged in such works as The Execution of Mrs. Cotton, about a real-life 19th century female serial killer, and The Wake of Dorcas Kelly, about an 18th century murderer, also a woman. Fellini is generally drawn to historical figures and to melodrama, both of which help to fuel her latest play, Ectoplasm, now on view at the Players Theatre.

Ectoplasm, a production by the theater company known as spit&vigor, of which Fellini serves as artistic director, unfolds in the year 1912 during a private séance at the home of a free-spirited poet and well-to-do brothel madame, Francine Montfort (Florence Scagliarini). Mme. Montfort is frequently referred to as being "Byronesque" in her demeanor; note, as well, her deformed foot, a characteristic she shares with Byron. Pointedly, however, she bears more than a passing resemblance to George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren," of Mrs. Warren's Profession, especially when the conversation turns to how very few financial opportunities there are for unmarried women, the general treatment of and condescension towards women by men being one of the play's underlying themes.

Both the freewheeling Mme. Montfort and another character, Kaye Schultz (Caitlin Dullahan-Bates), declare they are in love with the play's central figure, Sara Marshall (Jillian Cicalese), Kaye's professional partner in the realm of calling forth the spirits of the dead. Whatever feelings Sara may have for either woman, however, she plays her emotional cards close to her chest. Instead, she is all seriousness as she and the other guests attending the soirée are drawn into the business at hand, the conjuring of the dead.

As a playwright, Fellini has never been known for her depth of characterization or for adhering to the traditional arc of storytelling. Most of the characters here are as wispy as the spirits being invoked, like echoes from the past. Perhaps that is intentional, but there is something about Sara Marshall, the renowned medium, that draws us in. Is she being honest with us when she declares, "I believe we communicate with spirits, and I believe the dead are around us"? Or is it, as one of the guests, a professional magician, accuses, all just a "cruel parlor trick" that she perpetuates on vulnerable victims?

The magician, here called Ira Orinthall (Adam Belvo) but who presumably is a stand-in for Harry Houdini, makes for a worthy opponent. Like Houdini, Orinthall has made it his business to seek out and debunk so-called psychics and mediums, and his scenes with Sara Marshall mark the dramatic core of the play. Be aware, however, that as a company, spit&vigor is committed to its mission of creating "makeshift, skin-of-your-teeth, ad hoc theater." Personally, I could do with less "makeshift" and more traditional craft in both the writing and much of the on-stage interactions here, but if you are drawn to loosely constructed and inventive theater-making, Ectoplasm fills the bill.

Players Theatre
Through February 6, 2022
115 MacDougal St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: