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No Play Is an 'Island'

[whitespace] King of City Island
Dave Lepori

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Kevin Blackton and Livia Genise tangle in 'King of City Island.'

A hard case learns to ease up in SJ Stage Company's 'King of City Island'

By Heather Zimmerman

PLAYWRIGHT JIM GEOGHAN brings new dimension and appeal to familiar ideas about the inevitability of change, the necessity of self-worth and, most of all, people who need people, with his touching comedies about life in the depressed areas of New York City. In recent years, San Jose Stage Company has twice mounted productions of Geoghan's uplifting holiday play, Light Sensitive. The company now brings to the stage the world premiere of Geoghan's latest play, The King of City Island.

Much like the protagonist of Light Sensitive, who must cope with his bitterness after becoming blind, Cazzie (Randall King), a drawbridge operator living on New York's City Island, is figuratively blinded by his own bitterness, especially to the hurt he causes others.

Cazzie's anger toward life in general gets taken out on the ones he cares about, particularly his indefatigably loyal girlfriend, Donna (Livia Genise), to whom he has been engaged for more than 17 years. Cazzie is verbally abusive to his and Donna's overweight next-door neighbor, Muriel (Jacque Greer), and cheats his "business associates": Danziger (Kevin Blackton) and Luntz (Francis McBride), two seemingly dim bulbs who do all the grunt work for Cazzie's numerous illegal get-rich-quick schemes.

The only person impervious to Cazzie's meanness is his down-to-earth brother, Ambrose (James Reese), who comes to stay with Cazzie and Donna to recover his bearings after leaving the priesthood. Ambrose can overlook Cazzie's behavior not only because it's in his nature to do so but also because he understands how much their father's cruelty shaped his brother's attitude.

When Cazzie's latest instant-wealth plan backfires and he gets sent to jail for 10 months, Ambrose becomes a kind of healing guru for Cazzie's friends, teaching them not to just parrot affirmations of self-worth but to believe them, and encouraging everyone to pursue his or her lifelong dreams. Despite the good that everyone accomplishes in Cazzie's absence, however, Cazzie is hardly the bad guy, and Ambrose, with problems of his own to resolve, is also not the community's unequivocal savior.

Director Rick Singleton ably helms this intensely character-driven play, allowing us to savor each character's personal tale while at the same time keeping the play from bogging down in introspection. King's stellar performance makes it impossible to dismiss Cazzie as simply an insensitive jerk; Cazzie can be cruel and downright juvenile, but King captures all the pain that motivates Cazzie's behavior.

In a sense, Donna becomes Cazzie's foil; in learning to understand the tradition of relationships between men and women that shaped her own expectations, she finds the strength to face the possibility that she and Cazzie must separate. Genise beautifully carries off a poignant climactic scene in which Donna finally confronts Cazzie with her realizations.

And for all his ability to help others, Reese's Ambrose is confused enough to escape merely being a New Age stereotype, and in fact receives the same encouragement from his newfound friends that he gives to them, helping him to embrace his reasons for leaving the priesthood.

The King of City Island is more than an exercise in "I'm Okay, You're Okay" set in the Bronx. For all the themes of learning to love yourself and embracing change, Geoghan's characters simply all have heart, and they are impossible not to care about.

The King of City Island plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Nov. 1 at the Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $16-$22. (408/283-7142)

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From the October 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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