Morgan Lindsey Tacho portrays the central character in the play about “Benny”. On stage throughout the entire 90 minutes, Tacho has an alluring stage presence. Plump and quite pretty, she can also appear too intense, and her features too severe. That’s just the right mix for Anna – the adoptive child of a dysfunctional family who, suffering from bipolar disease, sexual abuse, a bad therapist, and a birth mother who is absolutely crazy, winds up at the end of the play divorcing her alcoholic husband.
The list of traumas she goes through are so extensive that they might have engendered any number of different characters spread out across a multitude of dramas. Instead it’s all sucked up into this one horrid tale that sounds like so many disturbing stories one hears about adopted children. In fact, one wonders if the playwright, Suzanne Bachner, is missing her audience: adoption agencies and their clients.
It is precisely the play’s explicit detailing of Anna’s maladies and the apparent reasons for them which constitute the play’s weakness. For Anna’s tale to carry much weight, the audience would need to feel that her sorrows are somehow beyond our grasp as well as her own. Edward Albee’s one-act play, “The American Dream” in which the issue of adoption is raised within an allegorical setting, makes the point. While the characters are types – “Mommy”, “Daddy”, “The Young Man”, they are also enigmatic which is what gives them another dimension.
But in “Benny” the action and subsequently, the characters, appear all too obvious. For instance, when Anna threatens to leave her adoptive parents, her shrink, portrayed by Bob Celli who also plays her father, scornfully retorts, “If you don’t go home little girl, I’ll call the cops; put you in a straight jacket and have you committed.” While his commentary should sound absurd, it appears merely trite in its context.
Occasionally, director Trish Minskoff achieves just the right note in delivering this heavy- handed tale, as when Anna finds herself in a slapping fight with her drunken husband. Regardless of how predictable that may be, it’s still shocking. As the husband Tim Smallwood delivers a fairly nuanced performance. But when the same actor plays the ghost of her stillborn brother, he seems as confused as the audience is by his inexplicable appearance.
Danny Wiseman, on the other hand, is equally provocative as both the cab driver and the family friend who takes care of Anna at the age of twelve. Sexual predators come out of the dark at unexpected moments in “Benny”. Other than that, there are few surprises.
By: Isa Goldberg
The June Havoc Theater
312 West 36th Street 1st Floor
New York City