Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) isn’t the only company dedicated to works by, about, and/or featuring the disabled, but it’s the only one operating on the Off-Broadway level, and after 33 years under the guidance of artistic director Ike Schambelan, it deserves an enormous amount of respect. The question, of course, is: How was the show?
In the case of More of Our Parts, a set of six short plays on the theme of disability, the answer is quite good indeed. For the most part these works hit home with humor and pathos. The eminence grise among the playwrights, A.R. Gurney, contributes a prickly but heartwarming little gem in which a hearing-impaired young man (superbly played by Stephen Drabicki) has determined to undergo a college admissions interview without using his hearing aids, for the benefit of his own pride but to the consternation of his anxious father (Nicholas Viselli). Using nothing more than a father-son conversation and a phone call, the play reveals the personalities and the dynamic of the relationship in all their heart and soul.
In addition to directing The Interview, Mr. Schambelan took on the evening’s other installment by a major-name writer, Neil LaBute’s The Wager, which highlights that writer’s well-known ability to create despicable characters. A resentful young man abuses a wheelchair-bound beggar to the increasing distress of his girlfriend – but who’s fooling whom? It’s an awful story with a disturbingly satisfying conclusion.
An enchanting Shannon DeVido stars in two effective nuggets. The reliable Bekah Brunstetter, one of the brightest talents to emerge from the NYC scene in recent years, contributes the darkly quirky After Breakfast, Maybe, about a frustrated disabled girl plotting to take over the world – with the aid of Google, but no help from her infantilizing mother (a touching Melanie Boland). In Samuel D. Hunter’s Geese a sensitive young man (David Marcus) who has been inappropriately hired to capture and kill nuisance birds meets a disabled young woman whose wit alone contains unexpected reserves of power.
For sheer comedy Bruce Graham’s The Ahhh Factor wins the evening’s award, giving us a Hollywood director (the consummately hilarious Warren Kelley) squirming to reject a scene by his screenwriter (a bemused Jonathan Todd Ross) requiring a popular hearing-impaired actress to show a little more than the director feels comfortable with. Like these little plays generally, this work uses comedy and dramatic conventions to say something fairly deep about the realities and perceptions of life lived with a disability. Jeffrey Sweet’s A Little Family Time succeeds less well partly because its theme – of a man who has hidden from his fiancee something he’s unduly ashamed of – is, ironically, all right there in the surface action.
More of Our Parts runs through July 1 at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit Telecharge.