Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Alliance Theatre Lab: Small Membership (reviews)

The Alliance Theatre Lab opened the world premiere production of Mark Della Ventura's Small Membership on June 1, 2012, part of its season of all-original plays.
Small Membership is a story about a big boy with a small problem. Meet Matt, a 26 year old seeking attention and guidance from a group of strangers. The show centers on male insecurity and through a series of flashbacks we see his childhood and adulthood struggles with puberty, sexual orientation, anxiety, true love, heartbreak and self-determined celibacy.
David Sirois directed Mark Della Ventura.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Now getting its Alliance Theatre Lab world premiere at the Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes, the full-length version of Small Membership is a frank look at the insecurities that can dog a guy as he’s coming of age.
Della Ventura is an easygoing actor who, under the direction of his long-time pal David Michael Sirois, commits fully to each potentially embarrassing twist and turn in Matt’s tale. Moving around the tidy classroom set designed by his sister Jodi (who spells her last name “Dellaventura”), the actor relives different traumatizing or emotionally challenging moments in Matt’s past, with an assist from lighting designer Natalie Taveras.
Small Membership is a play full of frank, occasionally X-rated talk about the intimate details of a too-often disappointing life. But because Della Ventura has crafted his script so well, because he is such a warm and likeable presence, Matt’s journey through young manhood makes you wonder how anyone could fail to see what a gem of a guy he is.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The pleasant, intriguing comedy bowing at the Alliance Theatre Lab is not an overwhelming triumph; something about it doesn’t quite land as solidly as you’re rooting for it to do. But the script and performance by Della Ventura deliver plenty of chuckles and just as many winces of painful recognition when he utters razor-sharp truths. Small Membership‘s real targets are those universal feelings of social insecurities and personal inadequacy (beyond physical attributes) that cripple our pursuit of happiness.
What rescues all this from running a bit thin or being overly mawkish is the genial persona of Della Ventura under the direction of his long-time collaborator David Michael Sirois, both key members of Alliance’s core company and the bedrock of Alliance’s season of all-original works. With a Stan Laurel squint and grin, Della Ventura once again proves to be adept at portraying affable teddy bears who are intelligent, funny and engaging.
In the end, Small Membership succeeds because Della Ventura depicts a nice guy we’d like to have a beer with. We can see more clearly than Matt that his feelings of worthlessness are based on vagaries that are not his fault and are not indicative of what kind of person he is. He has let these irrelevancies blight his life. And, of course, we take comfort in that because we’re struggling with our own perceived shortcomings, physical and otherwise.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
...no, he doesn't take off his clothes. Instead, he exposes his heart and mind, and we realize what a brave young man he is. Brave not only to stand on stage and deliver his material, but brave also to have survived his first twenty-six years, in his view, as a fat, boring, nervous, under endowed, possibly gay, but only if he couldn't find a girl, male who is covered in body hair.   And has no friends.
Mark Della Ventura wrote the piece, some of it true, some of it not, and you'll be hard pressed to discern fact from fiction as he plays himself at various ages and in various scenes, some hilarious and some heartbreaking... He has the happy demeanor that makes him instantly likeable on stage and when you add his subtlety you get an actor who can deliver his lines and you'll never know what's a lie and what's the truth.
Fellow Alliance company member and Della Ventura's best friend David Michael Sirois directed Small Membership and the result is a tight, truly entertaining piece that digs deeply into the angst of being an Italian who is not a stallion.
The Alliance Theatre Lab presents Small Membership at the Main Street Playhouse through June 24, 2012.

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