Produced and Directed by: Alicia Arinella
Written and Performed by: Julie Tortorici
Belly was last seen at the Bridge Theater in Shetler Studios as part of On the Leesh’s fundraising efforts for the film version of the play. Additionally, the one-person show was licensed for a brief run at the Murwillumbah Civic Centre in Australia with the Dream Run Theatre Company.
The show was a part of the NY Int’l Fringe Festival in 2003 where it was performed under the direction of J. Brandon Thompson and received rave reviews. After its run at the Fringe, Julie Tortorici and Alicia Arinella developed the show further and, with On the Leesh Productions, brought this charming one-person show to small stages throughout NYC.
Photos by Diana Whitten
Belly tells the story of an afternoon in the life of Frannie, a delightfully disarming housewife with a twist. Frannie, a shut-in adhering to her routine, surprisingly discovers an audience in her living room. Thrust into the role of hostess, Frannie takes her audience on a rollercoaster ride of memories, confessions, sanitizing, snacking and friendship. See the show Fred Backus of NYTheatre.com called, “a rare gem.”
See Jill Jichetti’s incredible review of Belly for offoffonline.com. It was one of their picks of the week! (There's another Off Off Online mention of Belly here.)
Ms. Jichetti writes: “The postcard for Off the Leesh Productions’s Belly advertises, ‘She’ll make you laugh, she’ll make you cry, she’ll make you forget yourself.’ This is no empty promise. Belly delivers.
This one-woman show presents one hour in the life of Frannie, an obsessive-compulsive housewife who, despite her obvious quirks, is not much different from the rest of us. With a soft spot for the wondrousness of Hostess cupcakes and a disinclination for the bleakness of cubicle life, Frannie could be an American Everywoman. Except that she can’t even remember what the weather was like the last time she ventured outside her house.
Writer/actress Julie Tortorici has a photo op with producer/
director Alicia Arinella.
As Frannie awaits her husband Barry’s return from work, she fills her days with housework, her only human interaction a harmless through-the-mail-slot flirtation with the postman. Then one day she enters her living room to find it filled with surprise houseguests—the audience. What follows is an absolute pleasure.
Despite her utter reliance on routine and the emotional stress from her marriage’s precarious state, Frannie demonstrates her strength and warmth by welcoming the guests into her home and—with disarming sincerity—into her confidence. Writer/performer Julie Tortorici regales the audience with Frannie’s eccentric but endearing anecdotes, exploring the question of how an everyday woman could have arrived at such an atypical life. From wry insights into her phobias to poignant glimpses into her girlhood memories, the stories demonstrate the depth of Frannie’s rich inner world.
Though Frannie lives in fear, Tortorici plays her with an appealing combination of qualities. At one moment, she is the nurturing mom who wants nothing more than to see her family at ease and well fed. “Mmmm…Hostess cupcakes,” she purrs—before sharing. The next moment, she’s a wide-eyed young woman who doesn’t realize how engaging her delight in small pleasures (like cable television) truly is.
In fact, Tortorici performs a sort of acting alchemy, lending charm and dignity to the story of a seemingly unremarkable woman to create a multidimensional character who out-sparkles the appliances we imagine she was cleaning and recleaning just before we arrived. The simple set, only the barest suggestion of a living room interior, in no way hinders Tortorici’s ability to make the place feel like a home. In fact, she develops a rapport with her guests so genuine that the audience feels connected not only to Frannie but to one another as well—one of the very reasons we go to the theater.
Though the camaraderie is forged in no small part from Alicia Arinella’s playful direction and Tortorici’s exceptional comic gifts, it is a testament to her emotional range as an actor that the connection grows as Frannie’s anecdotes take a turn toward the tragic. Ever the perfect hostess, she leads her guests though her own suffering with grace and the hint of a smile. Once taken in by her charms, the audience can’t help but empathize with her heartbreak and cheer for her as she searches for a way to emerge triumphant from her self-imposed cocoon.
Will she ever leave the house again? We sure hope so—though we would enjoy going back for another visit.”
Belly production photo - on set.
Check out the fantastic review it received during its run in 2003’s International Fringe Festival.
“Upon watching Julie Tortorici’s Belly one is suddenly struck by just how seldom a real connection is made between the audience and the performers of most one-person shows. Rarely does one feel that it is you who is actually spoken to, or that it is anything more than a theatrical device. That’s what makes Belly such a rare gem. Tortorici not only really speaks to the audience, but really listens as well, and she does it with astonishing simplicity and grace. Tortorici, who both wrote and stars in this wonderful piece, has created a character who is neither particularly intelligent nor should be particularly interesting. Frannie’s life story is not remarkable, and while she is recovering from a heartbreaking tragedy, that tragedy is not unique or even all that rare. On the surface there is really no reason to take much interest in her at all. But by establishing a true and reciprocal connection with her listeners, Tortorici is able to make you empathize with Frannie on a level that catches you by surprise. You find yourself understanding what makes this ordinary woman quirky, fun, and special. And unlike most one-person shows, this is no retrospective on how she got to where she is, forever to remain that way once the lights go down. Instead, this is a person whose journey is not done, and we are asked to help in her attempt at a spiritual rebirth. By the end of the show we are praying that she succeeds because the world would be a better place with her in it. That you end up laughing with Frannie’s joy and empathizing with her sorrow is not for me what make Belly so special. What is so exceptional is that by being invited into the piece so directly, a connection is formed not just between audience and performer, but also between every person in the room. Belly not only leaves you pondering your humanity and compassion, but actually challenges you to elevate them both, in the room and in the moment, thereby creating a theatrical event shared by all. That Tortorici and director J. Brandon Thompson achieve so much more than most others with seemingly so little is due to their talent, integrity, and courage. This is true theatre magic of the most rare and profound kind. Everyone involved with Belly should be very, very proud.” – Fred Backus of NYTheatre.com
Correction Please note that we had originally attributed Fred Backus’s review of Belly as being from Theatre Mania, but have now listed it correctly as being from NYTheatre.com. We apologize for this error in any of our previous publicity materials.