“Show me the alley, show me the train, / Show me the hobo who sleeps out in the rain,/And I’ll show you a young man with so many reasons why, /And THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE go you or I, or I”: second verse of Phil Ochs’ masterpiece of 1962, “There, But For Fortune “.
There’s a fine piece of theater occurring every Friday night at 7:00 P.M. at 340 East 6th St. at the newly named, East Village Playhouse. It is, “The Bench-A Homeless Love Story”. It has been a work in progress for over two decades by one Robert Galinsky, as writer and performer who’s ably abetted by renowned classical actor, Jay O. Sanders, directing the 60 minute story telling of Mr. Galinsky, as he narrates and enacts five characters, 4 men and one woman, who have indeed seen better days than depicted here in the presentation. It had previously been staged by them at The Cherry Lane Theater, in the Village last year, but this reviewer knew nothing of it until recently. More people who have any affection for superb acting, first rate story telling, and something of what is required these days more than most, a social conscience, should know of this moving, one-man play.
We meet through Galinsky’s seamless narration and manifesting these five characters who all, at times, dwell on this “Bench” where they sit, sleep, chatter to each other and sometimes to themselves, solicit, remember, lie, truth tell, and reveal their personal stories and how they interact at times and even despite the most desperate of circumstances and obstacles, find that which can only be named love. It is a remarkable hour of expert characterization and tale telling of true accounts how these lives, which previously had been blessed with good health, employment, family, even heroic stature, fell upon the hardest of times.
As poet –songwriter of the protesting 60’s so eloquently recalled the wisdom of the ancient Greeks: “There, but for Fortune go you or I, or I”, Phil Ochs, himself fell upon hard times some 15 years after he penned and sung those words resulting in his suicide. This has been well documented on PBS’s “American Masters”, how the fate of anyone of us can alter in an inkling. To be responsibly reminded of this truth, in a most engaging fashion is what Mr. Galinsky and Mr. Sanders are delivering face to face in the fifty seat space at 340 E. 6th St. only on Friday nights at the present time.
During the war, in 1942, when we were LOSING against Japan and Germany , Thorton Wilder, who’d already received two of his three Pulitzer Prizes, wrote in a letter to the young Montgomery Clift, then co-starring on Broadway as Henry in Wilder’s “The Skin Of Our Teeth”, the following: “ I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms……the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another, the sense of what it is to be a human being.” I mention this by way of saying, while endeavoring to avoid any whiff of pretension, that “THE BENCH”, as being performed now, is exceedingly of that spirit and aspiration. Go, and I daresay, as one of it’s backers, the celebrated Chris Noth discovered, that you cannot look at another homeless person as you had before.
“THE BENCH: A HOMELESS LOVE STORY, WRITTEN AND PEFORMED BY ROBERT GALINSKY, DIRECTED BY JAY O. SANDERS, PRODUCED BY TERRY SCHNUCK AND PRESENTED BY CHRIS NOTH AND BARRY”SHABAKA HENLE, at East Village Playhouse: 340 East 6th St. presented on consecutive FRIDAY NIGHTS ONLY at 7:00 promptly. Tickets,$39.00(646-481-6583).
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Photo credit: Aiden Grant unless otherwise noted