How does that colloquial saying go? Something like, “You are the sum of the closest people around you?” If that’s the formula to success then consider Robert Galinsky, the writer and performer of The Bench, the proof positive.
For while The Bench is undoubtedly the brainchild of Galinsky (full disclosure: he also contributes to The Fresh Toast), he is a relative unknown in the theater world when compared to the company he keeps. You’re more likely to recognize the show’s director and presenter for their performance work, which is what makes Galinsky’s triumph all the more impressive.
Performed off-Broadway at the Cherry Lande Theatre, The Bench navigates the emotional heartbreak of five homeless characters the devastating fallout surrounding AIDS in the 1980s. Galinsky assumes the role of each of the characters alone, slipping in between them with flawless precision and gusto.
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Jay O. Sanders, who you know from his roles in JFK and Amazon’s Sneaky Pete, directs The Bench. He strips away the sentimentality from the source material, leaving the deep reservoirs of emotionality already contained in the stories of the characters.
“It is all there. Sadness, confusion, the love, the pain, the joy, the rage… it speaks for itself,” Sanders said. “It has to be done so that you, the audience can simply, as he steps into the characters, you can feel the bizarre levels that are underneath what you’re used to seeing, which is a bunch of lost anonymous people sitting on a bench. [Galinsky] does it. He accomplishes it. He embraces it.”
Presenting the Cherry Lane Theatre production is Chris Noth, Mr. Big from Sex and the City. Following its Fall run, Noth believes The Bench should tour, shown in universities and colleges who would appreciate the artistic achievement.
“Galinsky really took the time to tell these characters stories here and I can never look at another homeless person again and not think of what their story is,” Noth said.
The Metropolitan Report delivered a glowing review recently, comparing Galinsky’s work to other hallowed greats who have performed at the Cherry Lane Thetre, including Sam Shepard, Edward Albee, Harold Pinter and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
He is also quite possibly filling the void of incredible New York actors who have sadly passed recently: Phillip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini. Although big shoes to fill, it certainly looks like Robert Galinsky is ready to fill them, walk in them and quite possibly run straight to Broadway in them.
Mark Schoenfeld, the creator of Brooklyn the Musical on Broadway, serves as Associate Producer for The Bench. He echoed the sentiment relayed by the Metropolitan Report.
“Sitting in the Cherry Lane Theatre, I felt right at home knowing that the late great Sam Shepard would have been proud that his legacy of thought provoking and risky stage work is being carried forward by playwright/performer Galinsky,” Schoenfeld said. “Shepard’s famous “True West” debuted at the Cherry Lane and Galinsky’s “The Bench” carries the torch of great American theatre, much like Sam Shepard’s works do.”
All these positive vibes point to Galinsky’s achievement. A show that could’ve easily slid into trite folly, instead receives such tender care in his hands. This is why the show, which currently runs until mid-December, has been such a smashing success.
As Schoenfeld said, “This show, The Bench, is the hottest ticket in town.”