Friday, July 19, 2019

Jersey Fried Tomatoes


Photos by Jory Westberry | Chico (Francisco “Paco” Mendez) reads poetry to Angelina Spano (Okencova) in a scene from their earlier lives.

Two hours of drama interspersed with laughter and tears?  Experienced, talented teen actors? An original play, written and directed by a local creative artist? Introspective ideas throughout the play? Local venue? For a $15 ticket?  No brainer – I’m going!

Gina Sisbarro has written two previous plays, “The Men of Mount Rushmore and Their Wives” and “Battlefield of the Brotherhood” that have been performed on Marco Island, both of which were very well-received, so I was anxious to see another original play by this talented writer/director, who also is the owner/operator of Sisbarro Acting Studio.

Starting with the unusual opening scene of Heaven’s Gate, the audience was captivated. The voice of God (Josh Young) fills the stage. Three women in white robes (Lenny Johnson as Filomena Johnston and Lia Okenkova as Angelina Spano), and one very distraught woman (Emily Boxma as Katherine Whitmore) are confused and not sure where they are. Enter JJ (Keaton Ashby), who is responsible for checking the women in and reading about their lives from their personal journals. Ashby, Ryan Sullivan and John Moinius portray two roles each admirably in this play by giving credence to each character.

The three lead women have varied backgrounds and experiences that are performed beautifully throughout the “quarantine” and soul-searching period in heaven. Peter (Teaker Harris, Jr.) in a shirt and pants of cloud printed material, listens to their edited stories and we suspect they are omitting parts; important parts.

Their pasts are acted out on various parts of the stage by additional talented actors as they watch and relive the causes and actions that brought them to their predicaments. Angelina Spano (Okencova) reenacts her relationship with Tony Spano (Sullivan) supported by daughter Viv Spano (Mia Winnik), Mary Jo Tripanni (Kira Swanson), Joey B (James Cameron) and Chico Lopez (Francisco “Paco” Mendez.)

The next revisit was the past life and events for Filomena Johnston (Lenny Johnson), Jackson Manning (Marc Ruby), Louis Manning (John Moinius), Alfred Davies (Edward Solomon), Kisha Haines (Kiki Andre), and Jackson’s Wingman (John Moinius). These actors didn’t miss a beat and performed their roles beautifully.



As each of the women watch and relive events of her past, the audience learns more about their lives and the decisions they made. The vignettes reveal relationships gone awry for various reasons and, at times, the audience was brought to tears as they empathize with the emotions and foibles of the characters.

The last vignette was the most poignant and explained why Katherine Whitmore (Emily Boxma) had been so distraught at the beginning of the play. No spoiler here, you need to see the play when it plays again (and I hope Gina Sisbarro considers this encouragement!) Simon Harding (Josh Young, also the voice of God), Jefferey Whitmore (Keaton Ashby), Whitney Chesterfield (Lissa Mann) and Katherine Whitmore (Boxma) acted this scene with drama and emotion that fit the tragedy.

I was so proud of some of my former students at Tommie Barfield Elementary, and how they have developed into mature actors and role models for the up and coming students. Don’t miss a chance to see any of the plays written by Gina Sisbarro and the talented students she coaches in her studio; you’ll be impressed.

Tony Spano (Ryan Sullivan) spars verbally with Joey B (James Cameron) over debts owed.

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