The Pull Toy (and his Paisan)
Collaboraction at Chicago Dramatists. By Robert McEwen. Dir Anthony Moseley. With Sean Patrick Fawcett, Sandra Delgado, Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Mark Hicks.
While watching The Pull Toy (and his Paisan), Robert McEwen’s early-’60s–era, high-school–set seriocomedy, I kept waiting for it to make a left turn into the ironic. Consider, after all, the vulgarly vogue couple played by Sandra Delgado and Carlo Lorenzo Garcia. Delgado’s sarcastically vaulted, do-ron-Ronette beehive, Garcia’s greaseball cyclone coif, and their nasally, mayonnaise-thick Italian-American accents are ripe for parody. Or consider the after-school-special premise: A rotund misfit (sweetly empathic Fawcett) gets brutalized in the locker room, then has to stand up not to the polo-shirt thugs who beat him, but to the thick-skulled paisan (fellow Italian-American) who wants to protect him. Throw in a square-but-sage principal and his prim-but-horny secretary, and it’s a recipe for the kind of social satire often on display in the pointy short plays of Collaboraction’s Sketchbook series.
Yet, strangely, Pull Toy is little more than a one-off Saturday morning special, complete with a where-are-they-now epilogue from Principal Webb. (Even the running time, 75 minutes, feels engineered for a sugared-cereal attention span.) There’s seasoning evident in veteran McEwen’s writing, but even his least expected plot element, an exploration of the rift between northern and southern Italian immigrants, only gets surface treatment. Under Moseley’s admirably controlled direction—he gets calibrated performances from all of his actors and keeps the action, including a few bursts of violence, carefully measured—the play keeps you engaged, but mostly because it seems to promise a surprise that never comes.—Christopher Piatt