by David Lally · August 21, 2015
Miranda Jonte | Annie van Blaricom
St. Francis, written by, and starring Miranda Jonte and directed by Stephen Broteback, is a showcase for its star. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Her company, HeyJonte! Productions, which is producing the show at FringeNYC’s mission is “to give women a place to roar and an outlet for everyone to ‘man up’”.
Miss Jonte plays Tessa, a veterinarian who now runs a dog rescue, who is desperate to find a new building for her no kill shelter, being forced out by an incoming Starbucks. She is also dealing with a disapproving city council, her high school sweetheart moving back home, and mentoring a teenage volunteer and budding vet, who thinks Tessa is the greatest thing since sliced bread. At the end of her rope, Tessa is left with asking her estranged father for financial assistance to keep the rescue open to save the dogs, and ultimately, herself.
Tessa is outspoken, has an over inflated sense of justice, and probably drinks too much. She’s also brash, bold, honest and fierce and Miss Jonte inhabits the role completely in a no-holds barred performance. As her ex-boyfriend, Will, John Whitney is an utter delight. He’s charming and affable, with just the right sense of how to handle Tessa (most often with bemusement). Meghan Rose Tonery gives a great turn as the teenage assistant Molly, and good support in minor roles is provided by Valerie Lonogro, Frank Mayers and John Moss.
The problem is that Miss Lonogro and Mr. Mayers have to essay three separate characters that don’t seem all that different from each other. I don’t fault the actors here but maybe a more extreme costume change, especially between Miss Lonogro’s Aunt Gwen and Madeline, and Mr. Mayers’ Young Punk and Joey, would have helped.
Also, having two of the adult males play children early on (especially since one of them has a full beard) is even more jarring when, in the next scene, you find out that one of them is your male lead. But these are production concerns when you are producing with a limited budget so it’s not an egregious error.
More problematic is Tessa’s treatment of her ex-boyfriend, Will, who is nothing but sweet, charming, kind and a gentleman throughout. Though the chemistry between Miss Jonte and Mr. Whitney is fine, I was curious as to what Will’s motivation to pursue Tessa was because it’s never explained.
The show itself is fairly straightforward in its conflict and issues and things get resolved fairly quickly. Boy and girl reunite, problems are solved, but then an unexpected plot twist towards the end upends everything. A last minute letter saves the day so everything is wrapped up rather neatly. It came off a little too by-the-numbers storytelling but that can be the danger when you write the best role for yourself. The plot and the other characters are left dangling in the wind.