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All of Me

Theatre Review by James Wilson - May 14, 2024

Madison Ferris and Danny J. Gomez
Photo by Monique Carboni
In the last few decades, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) has made huge technological advances in speech-generated tools, but it is hard to imagine a dramatic love scene producing much erotic tension as if delivered like a robocall. Imagine, for instance, the Siri female voice and her male counterpart performing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet: "Oh. Romeo. Romeo. Wherefore. Art. Thou. Romeo." This is the challenge that Laura Winters tackles in her romantic comedy All of Me, presented by The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center. The central characters use motorized mobility devices and communicate with text-to-speech AAC. Impressively, though, the play, which sometimes veers into sitcom territory, engenders a winning pair of sparring lovers and a fair number of sexual sparks.

Set in Schenectady, New York, the play begins in a hospital (Ellis, which would be recognizable to Schenectadians, like this former denizen) parking lot and immediately introduces the future lovers. (Brett Banakis and Edward T. Morris designed the adaptable and notably accessible sets with laudatory lighting by Reza Behjat. ConsultAbility serves as the accessibility and disability consultant.)

Alfonso (Danny J. Gomez), a nerdy and sincere data scientist who uses a motorized wheelchair, is waiting for his STAR Bus, and Lucy (Madison Ferris), an outspoken twenty-something woman who uses a motorized scooter, is expecting her sister. Both use speech-to-text speaking devices, so their dialogue is automated and monotone. (Thomas Schall designed the very effective sound.) Lucy is flirtatious, and after sharing their favorite pre-set lines on their audio devices and commiserating on awkward medical examinations, the two hit it off and agree to go on a date. Naturally, the course of true love never did run smooth, and the young couple must negotiate familial conflicts and other obstacles.

Lucy lives at home with her exceedingly empathetic sister Jackie (Lily Mae Harrington), her religious and easily agitated mother Connie (Kyra Sedgwick), and Jackie's ne'er-do-well fiancé Moose (Brian Furey Morabito). Connie, who is also overprotective, insists on meeting Alfonso before giving her blessing to the relationship and escorts her daughter on the first date. A dinner invitation proves disastrous when Connie practically come to blows with Alfonso's cosmopolitan, career-driven, and overbearing mother Elena (Florencia Lozano).

The play is at its best when it probes the intersections of class and disability. Similar to Amy Herzog's profoundly moving Mary Jane, currently playing on Broadway, All of Me shows the financial impediments confronting people with disabilities. However, when Lucy and Moose hatch a plan to address their economic circumstances, the play relies on some twists and coincidences that strain credulity. Still, the performances under Ashley Brooke Monroe's direction are quite strong and pull the scenes back from the melodramatic edge.

Sedgwick is quite good as a woman trying to do the best for her family while her own body works against her. Harrington is quite sympathetic as Jackie, especially as her own sister and partner almost ruin her wedding day. (Sarah LeFeber designed the costumes and has given Jackie a lovely wedding dress.) Morabito and Lozano provide good support and are excellent foils in their roles.

Ferris, who appeared on Broadway in The Glass Menagerie with Sally Field and Joe Mantello, is both deeply affecting and riotous. Her character was diagnosed as a teenager with muscular dystrophy, which has affected her speech, and she has just recently begun using the text-to-speech device. A former jazz singer with a bright musical future, Lucy masks her bitterness and insecurity with sarcasm, wry humor, and occasional nastiness. What the audio delivery lacks in vocal inflection and intonation, Ferris makes up for in flippant gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. She is, in short, captivating.

As her romantic partner, Gomez is charming and irresistible. Alfonso was paralyzed as a baby, and he is much more comfortable and confident with his disability. Lucy is resentful of the pitying gawkers she comes across daily and explains why she was embarrassed during an experience at Starbucks. "Four different strangers stopped by our table and asked us if we needed help. Four." In contrast, Alfonso did not find it all personally demeaning. He matter-of-factly explains, "I actually think it's mortifying for the strangers." Alfonso is a successful scientist, but under Lucy's forthright sexual advances, he is lovably timorous, and Gomez strikes the balance between self-assurance and timidity perfectly.

While not as utterly heartbreaking as Mary Jane nor as exquisitely crafted as Cost of Living, Martyna Majok's Pulitzer-Prize winning play that also explores the fraught relations between people with and without disabilities, All of Me is unabashedly entertaining and makes a significant contribution to diversifying the theatre.

All of Me
Through June 16, 2024
The New Group
Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
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