‘The Tenant’ by Bill Donnelly

“The Tenant” by Bill Donnelly is a play in which a working-class midtown couple take a Korean immigrant woman into their hearts. Depending on how you see it, it becomes the tragedy of a lonely woman’s unsuccessful act of kindness or the perilous seduction of an innocent couple by her mystic approach to love, life and healing. It’s a bittersweet everyday story of love and destiny with a “Twilight Zone” touch. Vincent J. Balzano directs. The design team are resident artists of Theater for the New City.

Sam and Babe are the loving, hard working superintendents of a midtown apartment building, into which moves a waifish young Korean woman named Lucky Star. She is deeply Catholic; she is also a numerologist and a healer. She was raised by nuns in Korea and was imprisoned for fighting off her abusive husband with a knife. She inspires pity and support in the American couple, who offer small favors to make her apartment more liveable and to help her start over in New York.

The Tenant pre production
(L) Carson Lee, (R) Vivian Chu. Photo by Lee Wexler.

Lucky Star is in an odd state of grace, which Babe hopes to gain from and which Sam finds mysteriously alluring. She worked in a “Barber Shop” (a front for a house of prostitution) in her past, but now in New York, she struggles to redeem herself with the purity of the Virgin Mother.

When Babe falls tragically ill, she seeks healing through Lucky Star’s herbal potions and massages. When Sam loses Babe, he seeks to replace the loss of his wife with the Korean newcomer; she wants to soothe his loneliness but not give him sex. Love, sex and compassion are forces of Nature, but they are out of kilter, as ferociously narrated by Romeo, the pet parrot of Babe and Sam, who is played by a fourth actor. Perceiving the events of the play from his roost in the kitchen, Romeo’s dramatic role is that of an amusing, wise Greek Chorus. He represents Nature in a play that artfully balances between the paranormal and the simply disturbing events of everyday life.

This is a first New York production for playwright Bill Donnelly, whose plays have unfolded over many years while he maintained a career in international law. As a young playwright, he was encouraged by the young Ellen Stewart, founding director of La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, although his plays were not produced by La MaMa. While he worked and lived in Belgium, his plays were championed by the prominent director Andre Ernotte. Donnelly’s body of work includes three conventional plays, a full-length musical and a trilogy named “La Valse: Night, Candles, Dawn” that is a new art form called Baloperama-a synchronous fusion of ballet, opera and drama-and will possibly be mounted in the near future.

“The Tenant” is a play that had been gestating for a while but burst from Donnelly’s mind in 1994, encouraged and facilitated by Bonnie J. Monte, Artistic Director of Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, who directed the play’s first reading. There have been three subsequent developmental readings, all directed by Vincent J. Balzano. Balzano helmed developmental readings of “The Tenant” in Manhattan at The Dramatists Guild and The Sage Theater and in New Jersey at the Bickford Theater, Morris Museum, Morristown.

Donnelly lives in Tyler Hill, PA but was a long time resident of Morristown, NJ, where he was president of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce for ten years, following a long career as an attorney with Warner-Lambert Company. During his legal and business career, Donnelly wrote avidly and has been recently energized, thanks partly to “The Tenant” being chosen as one of eight plays by the Dramatists Guild of America to participate in a Self-Production Boot Camp.

Director Vincent J. Balzano has been an actor and director for many years, working primarily in and around the tri state area. He has also produced a number of shows and benefits and has directed numerous productions, including “Two By Two,” “It’s Only a Play,” “How to Succeed…,” “The Imaginary Invalid,” “The Sisters Rosenswieg” and “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

Lucky Star is played by Vivian Chu, Sam is played by Carson Lee, Babe is played by Nancy P. Corbo and Romeo, the Parrot, is played by David Rothstadt. The design team are all resident artists of Theater for the New City: set Design is by Mark Marcante; lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff and costume design is by Susan Gittens. The parrot costume and general design assistance are by Lytza Colon. This team brings resources, creativity and an integrated approach to this independent production that is much richer for their synergy and experience.

Performances are April 29 to May 22, 2011 at The Producers’ Club Theaters, Crown Theater, 358 West 44th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), Midtown Manhattan. The show is presented by Turtle Mountain Production Company. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:00 PM, plus Thursdays May 12 & 19 at 8:00 PM and Mondays, May 2 & 9 at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $18 general admission. The box office is SMARTTIX, (212) 868-4444, www.smarttix.com and tickets can be purchased from the play’s website, www.TheTenantPlay.com.