FringeNYC Review: “The Crack in the Ceiling”
Writer: James Harvey / Director: Stephen Tyler Davis
1 hour, 20 min.
BY YANNIC RACK | “How much shame can the world contain?”
No child should have to ask himself that question, especially when it comes to his own mother. You can’t hold it against young David, though, for wondering aloud after a heavy-drinking handyman is allowed to set up camp in his basement — the latest in a long line of “hairy losers” he has to endure on behalf of his lonely mother.
“My mom’s not like other grown-ups,” he sings at another point in the musical, perhaps unaware that his mother, Ellen, actually embodies the cliché of the stressed-out, hypersensitive single parent.
But let’s rewind a bit.
Soon after her latest boyfriend packs his bags and shuts the door behind him, Ellen is confronted with a harrowing problem: a crack in the ceiling. This seemingly harmless structural fault plunges the frail Ellen headfirst into a full-blown existential crisis — because the crack is, of course, a metaphor for her life: broken and beyond repair.
“I can’t leave it. It could collapse,” she protests to her son, who is left shaking his head in disbelief while his mother chases after the perfect man to solve her problems.
A pizza delivery guy, a carpenter-slash-escort, a mold removal specialist and handymen of varying abilities all turn out to be incapable of fixing the ceiling, much less satisfy Ellen’s needs.
She is played by Kristy Cates — a Broadway veteran (as Idina Menzel’s understudy in “Wicked”) who brings the perfect balance of desperation and self-pity to the role. Cates is also lucky to have such a talented foil in Nicky Torchia, whose impressive performance as David shows a range and skill level far beyond his 11 years.
Stealing the show, however, is Josh Grisetti — who effortlessly slips in and out of fake mustaches and accents, portraying the revolving cast of oddballs that Ellen and David encounter. It is rare to see an actor have this much fun on stage, whether scripted or not (when Grisetti’s mustache came off at one point, he immediately embraced the gaffe, incorporating it into the scene to the delight of the audience).
The writing doesn’t lack in comedy either. The book, music and lyrics all come from the pen of James Harvey, who apparently conceived the idea a few years ago upon discovering a crack in his own family’s kitchen ceiling. Harvey’s catchy songs — accompanied by a skillfully arranged score for piano, bass and drums — feel original throughout, despite the repetitive nature of the subject matter.
The story takes a turn for the truly bizarre (and hilarious) when Ellen dials the number for “Alternative Home Repair” and Grisetti appears in his last incarnation, the long-haired hippie-handyman Jeshua the Prophet, who demands she sacrifice David to heal her ceiling once and for all.
“Hasn’t this crack been with you all your life?” he asks.
It’s the moment of truth in this laugh-out-loud funny tale of growing up — as either a kid or an adult.
Sat. Aug. 22 at 6:30 p.m., Tues. Aug. 25 at 8 p.m., Fri. Aug. 28 at 2:30 p.m. At the Lynn Redgrave Theater @ Culture Project (45 Bleecker St. at the corner of Bleecker & Lafayette Sts.). For tickets ($18), visit FringeNYC.org. Also purchase at FringeCentral, inside the City Lore cultural heritage center (56 E. First St. btw. First & Second Aves.), daily from 2–8 p.m. Order on your smartphone up to 30 minutes prior to performance, at FringeOnTheFly.com.