“Unusual Acts of Devotion” Another Terrence McNally Hit

The Philadelphia Theatre Company opens its second season in its new home, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, with the world premiere of Terrence McNally’s “Unusual Acts of Devotion.” 

It’s a steamy summer evening in New York City, and residents of a Greenwich Village walk-up gather on their roof to cool-off and enjoy the night air.  Their apartments might be rent controlled, but they’re too tiny for these over-sized personalities filled with pain and pride. Five tenants, and one uninvited guest, all grapple with some secrets, some truths, and plenty of drama underneath the slightly starry Manhattan sky. A romantic comedy for those who have been scared by Eros’ arrows, “Unusual Acts of Devotion” studies what people do – or don’t do – in the eternal quest for love. 

The Philadelphia Theatre Company has a long and special relationship with playwright Terrence McNally, having done the world premiere productions of “Master Class and Some Men,” but also the Philadelphia premieres of, “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” and “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.”  Directed by Leonard Foglia, who helmed the world premiere of “Master Class,” “Unusual Acts of Devotion” is a quirky cultural snapshot of Manhattan’s East Village and its unique and special residents. Foglia takes a small but talented cast, one sparse set, and a well-written book and mashes them together to make a modern tale about lonely and loving people.

Leo (Michael Aronov) and wife Nadine (Ana Reeder) are celebrating their wedding anniversary, and they’ve invited their neighborly nearest-and-dearest: hopeful but heartbroken homosexual Chick (Richard Thomas – formerly John Boy Walton), fascinatingly damaged diva Josie (Spin City’s Faith Prince), and the crotchety slightly psychic Mrs. Darnell (Viola Harris). Their rooftop party is frequently interrupted my somber soliloquies, musing monologues, and the obnoxious sounds of a police ‘copter looking for a killer.

While each cast member has some delicious and salacious secrets, it’s not the facts that are intriguing – it’s the emotional reactions. Dirty deeds and regrets are scrutinized over the dinner-party, and nobody gets away without a few introspective revelations. McNally’s greatest gift, is keeping the ship from sinking into a sea of depression. With some cagey one-liners and funny repartee, you’re laughing enough to stave off any tears. Doesn’t hurt that the cast all have excellent timing…with extra snaps going to Harris and Thomas for some truly special comic moments.

A comedic flash aside, “Unusual Acts of Devotion” is typical McNally fare: thoughtful, wistful, and peppered with insights about love, sex and relationships. I can’t recommend this movie to those already suffering from the blue – since “Unusual Acts of Devotion” might tug a bit too hard on their heart strings, But it’s the perfect escape for those romantics at heart, who don’t let sorrow and pain prevent us from persevering.  

Through Sunday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m.
Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets on the Avenue of the Arts
$46 to $59
Student, Senior Citizen and Group Discounts available

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