×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Magic Hands Freddy

Baby-faced Ralph Macchio returns quietly to the stage in this modest production of a new play by Arje Shaw. The Soho Playhouse's small stage hosts "Magic Hands Freddy," a dark comedy about an Italian-American masseur who discovers too late that his seemingly placid life is rife with betrayal. Despite Michael Rispoli's charming performance in the title role, this uneven production teeters dangerously toward the amateurish.

With:
Freddy - Michael Rispoli Calvin - Ralph Macchio Maria - Antoinette LaVecchia Sal, others - Ed Chemaly

Baby-faced Ralph Macchio returns quietly to the stage in this modest production of a new play by Arje Shaw. The Soho Playhouse’s small stage hosts “Magic Hands Freddy,” a dark comedy about an Italian-American masseur who discovers too late that his seemingly placid life is rife with betrayal. Despite Michael Rispoli’s charming performance in the title role, this uneven production teeters dangerously toward the amateurish.

The action unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, highlighting the pivotal moments of Freddy’s life. The first half focuses on the strength of Freddy’s love for brother Cal (Macchio) and his sunny attitude toward life in the face of a frosty wife and sick daughter.

At the end of the first act, Cal dies in a car accident. While sifting through his brother’s possessions, Freddy learns he and wife Maria (Antoinette LaVecchia) had been having an affair — and that Cal is the biological father of Freddy’s daughter, April. Maria has already returned to Italy, unable to bear the pain of Cal’s death.

Shaw’s script is filled with lively, fluid dialogue and clever lines that keep the play afloat. (Shaw penned Holocaust drama “The Gathering,” a flop on Broadway in 2001.) Cal asks his brother, “Did you ever hear of unconditional love?” Freddy replies, “No. I only give with strings. I am a string instrument.”

Rispoli’s charisma and comic skill help gloss over the less-realized aspects of the production. He successfully pulls off challenges that could stand out uncomfortably — strolling down the aisle confiding to the audience, or delivering lines like “By grounding myself to the Earth’s core, I draw power from within its hot molten center,” from a moving meditation that bookends the play.

Ed Chemy provides humor and skill in his many supporting roles, though at times he forgoes clear choices for bold ones.

But Macchio’s stiff perf as Cal gives little sense of his inner turmoil. The character has, after all, betrayed his munificent brother and fathered a child he cannot claim. Macchio presumably chose to accentuate Cal’s repression and disconnection as defense mechanisms, but they also obscure the humanity of his character.

Similarly, LaVecchia’s portrayal of Maria lacks an emotional bridge connecting the passionate young woman we see in flashbacks to the cold housewife she becomes. The woman who now holds court in the kitchen as a bitter, dowdy housewife bears no resemblance to the passionate, playful girl of the early scenes.

Some of the limitations in the perfs can be attributed to Shaw and director Rebecca Taylor’s choice to focus primarily on Freddy. Although Taylor is successful in drawing out the possibilities in this role, making Freddy the only sympathetic, fully drawn character backfires. In order for the secrets revealed at the play’s finale to have any power, the viewer needs to feel the suffering of all three participants.

Popular on Variety

Magic Hands Freddy

Soho Playhouse, New York; 214 seats; $50

Production: A Dana Matthow, Steve Alpert and Kenneth Greiner presentation of a play in two acts by Arje Shaw. Directed by Rebecca Taylor.

Crew: Sets and lighting, Jason Sturm; costumes, Yvonne De Moravia; stage manager, Adam Grosswirth. Opened Feb. 19, 2004. Reviewed Feb. 24. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Cast: Freddy - Michael Rispoli Calvin - Ralph Macchio Maria - Antoinette LaVecchia Sal, others - Ed Chemaly

More Scene

  • Gaby Hoffmann, Albert Cheng, Alexandra Billings,

    'Transparent' Team Reflects on Series Finale Without Jeffrey Tambor

    Friday night’s premiere of the series finale of “Transparent” at L.A. Live’s Regal theater felt like a family reunion for the Pfefferman clan. Matriarch Judith Light embraced each one of her TV children (Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass) and guest stars from previous seasons (Cherry Jones, Melora Hardin, Bradley Whitford) who also turned [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Pom Klementieff poses at the launch

    Marvel Cinematic Universe Star Pom Klementieff Talks Disney-Fox Merger, X-Men Dreams

    Pom Klementieff may have entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe playing Mantis in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” followed by appearances in the last two “Avengers” movies, but that wasn’t her original superhero plan. “My dream was to be in X-Men,” she told Variety on Thursday at the Chanel dinner for its new fragrance Gabrielle [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow

    Gwyneth Paltrow to Be Honored at amfAR Gala Los Angeles

    Gwyneth Paltrow and art dealer Larry Gagosian are set to be honored at the 2019 amfAR Gala Los Angeles. The American Foundation for AIDS Research announced that the two honorees will receive the Award of Courage for their commitment in the fight against HIV and AIDS as well as for their other humanitarian efforts. Christina [...]

  • David Mandel Sam Richardson

    'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'Veep,' 'When They See Us' Writers Honored at Emmy Nominees Reception

    Ava DuVernay (“When They See Us”), David Mandel (“Veep”) and Bruce Miller and Kira Snyder (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) were among those honored at the Television Academy’s Emmy nominees writers reception on Tuesday night in North Hollywood. There, ceremony hosts, “Escape at Dannemora” star Eric Lange and “Veep’s” Sam Richardson, kept the show moving by tossing in [...]

  • Jon Stewart and Bruce Springsteen

    Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart Return for 13th Annual Stand Up for Heroes

    Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Hasan Minhaj will again Stand Up for Heroes. Comedian Ronny Chieng will join the multi-talented group on stage for a night of music and comedy in honor of military veterans and their families at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4. The 13th annual event [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content