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Starin’ at and Spittin’ Down… The Abyss

Starin’ at and Spittin’ Down… The Abyss, written and performed by Ray Paolino, is presented as part of United Solo's 16th season. The play, which has been performed at the University of Georgia Athens, SUNY Purchase's Pepsico Theatre, and the NYC Sparks New Play Festival, is a detailed personal account of old age and what death ought to be.

If we refer to the acting profession as "treading the boards," Ray Paolino has danced those boards to shreds. He has originated roles in NYC, performed Shakespeare internationally, and has taught acting in the United States for over 30 years. He brings a storied and relaxed expertise to this performance. The show's program mentions that Paulino suffers from a memory loss disorder and that the text for this play will be displayed on a screen for him to refer to. Paulino informs us in his performance that he is a person who has undergone many surgeries, including treatment for prostate cancer and double bypass heart surgery, to maintain his health. 

So you can imagine my surprise when, a few minutes into the show, Paulino shouts 'BALL!' and a basketball is thrown from the front row into his arms. He begins to dribble and pass the ball. He recalls his love of playing basketball, which he did well into his adult life but can no longer do because his muscles cannot absorb the necessary impacts. Later, in between regaling us of his experience of having a cystoscope inserted into his urethra and the car accident that killed his mother, he informs us that it was the heart-pumping intensity of a casual basketball game that caused the death of one of his colleagues. Juxtapositions like these were used well throughout the performance, teetering on the verge of the abyss, somberly but not without vitality. The show, centered around death and our idea of death, was undeniably and fittingly lively, full of vivid imagery and laughter. 

The show felt fully developed, its universal theme urging audiences to take care while we are living and to live fully, no matter where we are in life. Each moment, each piece of this thesis is given casually for us to take or leave, with the knowledge that the writer has the lived experience to know what he's talking about. The medical descriptions are graphic but are always cut with the perfect amount of humor and brevity. The performance cohesion shows Barry Pearson's work in directing the piece and keeping each beat fresh for the audience.

The play is simple, solid, and delightful. It spotlights a disabled storyteller, one of many voices typically unrepresented in Off-Broadway theatre. Though Starin’ at and Spittin’ Down… The Abyss explores old age and death as its main theme; it is a show for everyone, especially to remind those younger to play the long game when it comes to life.

"Starin’ at and Spittin’ Down… The Abyss"

Written and Performed by Ray Paolino

April 3, 2024

The 16th United Solo Festival

March 4 – April 28, 2024

Theatre Row

410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)


Rita Frances Welch is… Wait, who’s asking? There are a few answers depending on the context. Rita is A) A New York playwright, actor, and director, B) The owner of 5 discrete copies of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, C) A force of nature, controlled by the tides and called to by the wind, disappearing and returning like the seasons. More material than their author, Rita’s plays have been produced by The Tank, Theatre X, Playwrights Performance, and Rogue Theatre Festival. They hold a B.F.A. in Acting from Shenandoah Conservatory, during which they studied under LAByrinth Theater’s Martha Wollner and Padraic Lillis. Rita’s writing functions as an experiment- a combination of characters in the petri dish of their world, their personal challenges and delusions in a vacuum, isolating for every variable but one: Human nature, which reveals itself every time.



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