A funny look at the immigrant experience

May 14, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing Writer

The nocturnal habits of cockroaches serve as a metaphor for Polonium Theatre's fine, funny production being staged at the Polish National Alliance in Fells Point through May 23.

The delightful and thought-provoking satire, "Hunting Cockroaches," by contemporary Polish writer Janusz Glowack, has its roots in the author's own tough immigrant experience in America.

The play, written in the mid-1980s, touches on some of Glowack's stressful recollections of his struggles to exist under a Communist regime.

And the loneliness and sense of estrangement felt by those migrating to this country is illustrated through a series of ironic and humorous events -- surrealistically staged -- that fluctuate between nightmare fantasy and the real horrors of living in New York City.

Excellently directed by Ramona Pula, the show features first-rate professional performances by two of the area's most gifted actors, Tony Tsendeas and Donna Sherman.

It was a joy to watch the two actors' superb interaction and quick change of pace and mood. Their well-executed and broad range of emotions, slick movement and subtle, sardonic delivery kept this show on its toes throughout the evening.

Tsendeas and Sherman play a disillusioned young Polish couple, Jan and Anka, who have become insomniacs in a futile attempt to adjust to the wild confusion of pragmatic urban life. And they are loath to give up the purity of their previous artistic lives.

Jan was a successful writer in Poland but cannot find a publisher in this country. Anka was an acclaimed actress in her native land but here she never gets beyond the audition stage because of her "accent."

As the play opens it is the early hours of the morning in a seedy, roach-infested apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The two are comically obsessed with the dream of sleep and are convinced that only "sleepers" run New York. As they reflect on their past, present and future hopes and fears -- while stomping cockroaches -- the two are plagued through the night by a succession of weird characters who emerge suddenly from under the bed.

These figures represent the KGB and American immigration officials, a self-serving, patronizing Park Avenue couple, and a ragged homeless woman who assures them they will be happy living in the local park after they are ejected from their apartment for non-payment of rent.

Good support is given in these roles by Jimi Kinstle, Don McIntosh, Felicia Shakman and Courtney White.

*

Meanwhile, another interesting satire, somewhat darker in nature, is on stage at the Fell's Point Corner Theatre through June 7. Joe Orton's "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" opened in London in 1964 and shook British audiences to the core with its bestial aspects and disposal of any moral codes.

The play is fascinating in its black, comedic rapacity wherein people seek pleasure for sheer pleasure's sake without care as to the heavy cost.

This very sophisticated work, directed by John Blair, revolves around a murderous and amoral young sociopath, Sloane, his oversexed landlady and her fussy businessman brother who finds women entirely repugnant.

As the play progresses, and it is slow going sometimes, the story becomes a cat and mouse game with the brother and sister vying for Sloane's shallow affections.

Sensing his father is someone who will betray him, Sloane coldly kills the old man. The death has little effect on the siblings who, with their father's body not yet cold, come to an amiable agreement to share Sloane's favors.

"Entertaining Mr. Sloane" is a three-act play and Blair has made the mistake of lumping the second and third acts together, thus clouding the continuity.

Blair has also inserted too much violence, which was not in the script, in the vicious death scene.

The pace of the play has to pick up a good deal and the verbal exchanges must be quick, crisp and varied colorfully to achieve the proper comedic effects.

Gloria Henderson turns in an excellent performance as the neurotic nymphomaniac and Bruce Godfrey is consistently good as her foolish father.

Mark E. Campion is quite convincing as Ed but the actor has a tendency to stay on one level too steadily instead of playing with the range of emotions necessary to the role. Jordan Matter is a believable Sloane but lacks the sinister underlying aura the audience should feel the minute he sets foot on the stage.

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