By Miranda Jonte; Directed by Stephen Brotebeck
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.23.15
VENUE #15: Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street
by Sarah Moore on 8.24.15
Soji James and Miranda Jonte in St. Francis. Photo by Simon Raymundo.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent new play about a female vet trying to save her animal shelter, starring its author.
The worst part about the NYC Fringe Festival is finding a gem of a show like St. Francis, only to discover it is closing the next day. Written by and starring Miranda Jonte as Tessa, St. Francis is a beautiful play about a strong female character who follows her passion for animals above all else. I just wish I had seen Jonte's piece earlier in its run, so I could have told others to go.
Tessa is a veterinarian who has left the lucrative world of emergency medicine to open her own animal shelter, where she makes next to no money. She and her assistant Molly (an enthusiastic and believable Meghan Rose Tonery) run the One Paw Two Paw no-kill animal shelter based on their love for dogs.
Unfortunately, they are being forced out by the local government because there’s a Starbucks that wants the space. Her old boyfriend Will (John Whitney, also fantastic) returns to their hometown just as this crisis is going on, and he happens to be a lawyer. Unfortunately he can’t help with Tessa’s case, because he is responsible for all of Tessa’s dad’s legal matters, and therefore it would be a conflict of interest to work on getting money out of her trust to pay for a new building for the shelter. We learn a surprising amount of backstory about these characters in the short running time, a credit to Jonte's writing. I was engrossed in the story for much of the play, finding myself really caring about this fictional animal shelter and the people who work there.
Not only is St. Francis a great play, but it is one of the most professional Fringe productions I’ve seen this year. Director Stephen Broteback keeps the pace moving and the show engaging with clever use of the space; the ingenious multi-use set pieces (set design by Andrew Mannion) make this feel like much more than a Fringe production. The lighting by Jason Fok is also polished. It’s also a unique story: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a play about a vet and an animal shelter.
Additional performances by Frank Mayers, John Moss, and Valerie Lonigro as multiple townspeople are also great. While the ending of the show feels a little abrupt, this show would definitely benefit from further development, and I hope to see it picked up by another theater in New York.
(St. Francis plays at VENUE #15: Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street, through August 23, 2015. Performances are Sun 8/16 at 6:30; Wed 8/19 at 4; Fri 8/21 at 6:15; Sat 8/22 at 7; and Sun 8/23 at 1. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit heyjonte.com.)