Every once in a great while, a person comes across a play, musical, cabaret, or other production that is so inspiring, so magnetic, so unique, with a passionate performance, stellar direction, beautiful music, and ingenious sets that truly leaves the audience captivated and inspired. My Life with Men... And Other Animals playing at the 45th Street Theatre does just that. With outstanding direction by Peter Schneider, beautiful music by James Edwards, gorgeous set design by Gianni Carluccio, effective lighting by A.J. Weissbard, and inspiring acting by Maria Cassi, My Life with Men... And Other Animals is a hidden Off-Broadway gem that hopefully won’t remain hidden for long.
From the moment that one-woman powerhouse, Maria Cassi, enters the stage, her intense energy, infectious smile, and engaging conversation immediately captivate the audience, sending a spark that doesn’t quickly diffuse. She admits that she doesn’t speak English very well, has a huge crush on George Harrison of the Beatles, loves The Godfather and Marilyn Monroe, and doesn’t understand the saying, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Her hilarious take on American culture, while still grounding her roots in Florence, Italy where she was raised, leaves the audience feeling refreshed, proud to be American, yet yearning to take a vacation to Florence where she pleads everyone to come visit. She says, “It’s impossible to forget the fragrance of the flowers at sunset... the smell of the olive trees...”
Maria Cassi talks about her early days of growing up in Florence, her mother, Clara, giving orders to “lock all the doors,” “don’t dance so close to boys,” and remember that your “knees are twins -- they must stay together.” “Si mama, si mama, si mama,” Maria always respectfully answers. She remembers her first kiss where everything else “disappears and you feel immortal,” and how her first boyfriend, Nando, broke her heart, and left her singing, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” This event, instead, propelled her to fall in love with her audience, marry a chef named Fabio, go to clown school, and eventually end up performing in America.
Maria Cassi doesn’t need to speak English. Her animated acting and storytelling transcends all necessary translation and truly captivates the audience in such a way that we fall in love with Maria, her story, her life, her family, and her country which she holds so near and dear to her heart. Maria loves her family and her friends, and never takes herself too seriously when she lightly talks about poetry, politics and olive oil. Although Americans overuse the phrase, “I’ll take this to go, to go, to go, “ Maria is content living in the moment and appreciates life experiences as they occur. The only critique I have is that the curtains on the wings of the stage are too broad and at times block the full view if you’re seated far left or right in the audience.
Charming, endearing music by James Edwards and gorgeous set design and images by Gianni Carluccio and Valeria Palermo set the stage for a beautiful transcendent “canto” on one woman’s journey of culture, family, food and life. Maria Cassi in My Life with Men... And Other Animals is a funny, colorful, and beautiful story that teaches us to fall in love, show your legs, and “Vivi i tuoi sogni”...
My Life with Men... And Other Animals will play at New York’s 45th Street Theatre (354 W. 45th Street) from March 15-18. It will also be presented at the Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, NY on March 9 & 10. Visit www.mylifewithmenandotheranimals.com for more information.
Photo Credit: Tilde de Tullio