by Ron Cohen · August 20, 2015
Mark Della Ventura | Michelle Webster
Listening to someone’s endlessly self-pitying version of their life story can be wearing. Luckily, Mark Della Ventura, who wrote and performs Small Membership, has the comedic skills and winning stage presence that make almost all of this solo show’s 85 minutes or so an engaging entertainment. He’s also a persuasive actor, and I found several moments of his show, being presented at the NY International Fringe Festival, quite poignant as well.
Della Ventura portrays Matt, who’s addressing a support group for guys -- as the title suggests -- with small penises. His lengthy “Hi! I‘m Matt“ talk covers his history from infancy to his present 28 years of age, with penis size being a dominant factor in shaping his persona. At one point, a doctor tries to tell him he’s pretty normal, but with his ingrown sense of deficiency he can't believe it.
Matt’s woes are plentiful. He’s pretty much ignored by his parents as a kid, overlooked among his four siblings. He‘s also overweight, shy, and unsure about his sexuality. His narrative is sprinkled with vignettes depicting telling moments, such as: his awkward first attempt to ask a girl out for a date; his praying to God for a larger member; his graceless self-introduction at a college orientation program, and his donning a “Super Target” costume (that’s Target as in the discount store chain) for a college Halloween party.
After graduation from college, where he majored in creative writing, Matt gets a colorless job as a proofreader, He also manages to acquire some friends but continues to lack a close relationship until he meets by happenstance, Amanda. They have an immediate connection that grows over months into a serious thing, even if they never get around to consummating it.
The romance breaks up when Amanda, an actress, gets a job that moves her out of town to New York, and Matt’s fear of change keeps him from joining her. He does make one last attempt to get together with her, but it comes to naught. It does, however, force him to lose some weight, and also face his own deficiencies as a person. As he talks about the breakup and the reasons behind it, Della Ventura created some moving passages.
Fluid staging by the directors David Michael Sirois and Gabriel Hammad and effective lighting by Natalie Taveras (along with the uncredited sound design) help the actor establish a definitive sense of time and place as he moves through the various episodes of Matt’s history.
You can’t help but wonder how much, if any, of a show like this is autobiographical. I wouldn’t venture a guess, but whatever, I felt some happiness for Matt -- or it is Mark? -- as he revealed at play’s end that unloading his story to the support group made him feel better.