Getting the 411 on ‘1-2-3 Manhunt’ from Ilene Kristen and Tony DiMurro

On the edge of a tenement rooftop, a smackdown occurs between two vastly different natives of the changing Lower East Side. After things get physical between the middle-aged old-school Italian back for his last hurrah and the Chinese American teenager with fading dreams of playing major league baseball, the desperate adversaries unexpectedly find common ground by looking outward to the city and the world at large, in an unflinchingly painful, often violent, and sometimes funny new play that examines what gentrification and ‘progress’ have wrought, the importance of friendship, and owning your sins – whatever the consequences may be.

Ilene Kristen and Santo Fazio in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of 1-2-3 Manhunt.

1-2-3 Manhunt, written by NYC-based actor and playwright Tony DiMurro (The Coyote Bleeds), directed and co-produced by William Roudebush (Equus), and featuring the cast of Anthony Barile, Chris Paul Morales, Santo Fazio, and two-time Emmy nominee Ilene Kristen (One Life to Live; Ryan’s Hope), will play a limited Off-Broadway engagement at Theater for the New City from October 7-24. Developed at Naked Angels and first read at The Actor’s Studio (where Roudebush and DiMurro are current members of the Playwright/Director Unit), the blistering work was a semi-finalist at the prestigious O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.

In addition to presenting significant socio-economic themes, the Off-Broadway showcase production will support Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York City (BBBS of NYC), with all net proceeds going to the nation’s first, and the city’s largest, youth mentoring organization. Founded in 1904, BBBS of NYC matches caring adult mentors with over 2,500 youths annually, across all five boroughs, to inspire the next generation of leaders (97% of whom are promoted to the next grade, and 93% accepted into college).

Tony and Ilene – who originated the role of Patty Simcox in Grease on Broadway, has extensively Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and digital series credits, is an active artist and Board member of The Ensemble Studio Theatre, and is one of the most famous faces in the history of daytime television – took time during rehearsals to give us a sneak peek at the show.

What’s the best thing about returning to live theater? How does it feel to be back on stage?

Tony: I think it’s getting up first thing in the morning, getting dressed, and going to the theater to work. What a privilege; I feel so fortunate. And those are feelings I don’t normally experience on a daily basis.

Ilene: It’s so great to be back in rehearsals and doing what we do! These past five years have been such a strange time with the pandemic and the presidential elections, it’s been like a different country. But this feels normal again, in an abnormal time. And with the theater’s location on the Lower East Side it harkens back to when I was doing rehearsals for Grease downtown at the Ukrainian Center, which is even mentioned in the play. So it’s kind of like a 1970s vibe, without being as lighthearted; it’s a really great experience and I like the people I’m working with on it.

I don’t really have stage fright, but coming back after the long closure of the past eighteen months, I do get a little nervous – till I’m on stage, then it’s fine. Because it’s a showcase production, there’s not a lot of rehearsal time, just a few weeks, so even when we’re off for a day, I’m running my lines at home with my boyfriend and have them in my head. But that’s not the same as being on stage, when they’re not just in your mind, they’re in your body. I always try to give it my all – and I do!

Ilene Kristen. Photo by Donna Svennevik.

In light of your own charitable involvement in aiding and mentoring children, what does it mean to you that the production is committed to donating funds to BBBS in NYC?

Ilene: That’s the best! I worked in a homeless shelter for four years in the late ‘80s, when the situation was so bad, and I spent a lot of the time mentoring kids, both in New York and then in LA. The Latino kids in LA didn’t know me from TV, but when I’d walk into shelters and organizations in NY, it was funny – the kids all recognized me from the soaps and were thrilled that Delia was there with them! I’m still in touch with some of them and that means a lot to me.

What inspired the play?

Tony: Inspiration is like love; who can explain it? I think that my father passing away unexpectedly gave me material to work with and writing allows you to experience grief and use it in a creative way.

Do you have a personal connection to the Lower East Side?

Tony: Yes. I was not born and raised there, I was born and raised in Jersey City, which is not too dissimilar in a general sense – all the grit but none of the culture. I’ve been coming to New York City and, specifically, the East Village since the Path train was 30 cents. After high school, I went to NYU and that’s when it became my neighborhood, and it’s been my neighborhood in one form or another ever since. That’s why this venue is the perfect setting for the piece.

Tony DiMurro. Photo by Jody Christopherson.

Are the characters based in part on people you know?

Tony: Yes, but I think they are a composite of many different people I have known or met. I think the term that’s used now is auto-fiction. This is definitely a work of auto-fiction.

Can you tell us a little about your character Millie? What do you find most relatable about her?

Ilene: She’s born and bred in New York, like I am, and she’s a tough chick, really street-wise, so I’m using a pretty thick accent, which I never really had. What we know about her from the script is that she used to collect money for the mob, so she’s not above cracking someone’s ankle. Details about her are sketchy because it’s not her story, which gives me a lot of freedom to make up her backstory. We don’t really know her occupation; maybe she’s a hairdresser – she’s definitely not a banker, at least not a legal one! But we do know that she’s a true friend to Alex, and that friendship, having a history, and helping someone she cares about mean a lot to her.

What’s the overall tone of the work?

Tony: I think it’s a tone of honesty, which necessarily means – I hope – that it will be a dark and somewhat funny play that borders on absurdity. Dark and humorous overall.

Aside from the entertainment value, what would you like the audiences to take away from the play?

Tony: I leave audiences free to their own experience. More than anything audiences inform the play. They will teach me what it’s about and what works and what doesn’t work. Ultimately, I hope they identify with the characters in a way – an intimate way – that is unique to theater.

Are you excited to be working with your friend and colleague Bill Roudebush? What has he brought to the staging?

Ilene: I’ve never worked with him on a finished full-stage production before, but I’ve always wanted to. He’s great, very creative, and calming, so I’m honored to be doing this. We have done readings together before, of a Paul Minx play, and he saw me do something at The Actors Studio, so he thought of me for this play. I had a feeling that I would get a job, and then he called me! But it was before the pandemic, so the show had to be postponed until now. This coming week we really have our work cut out for us before previews, when we’re putting all the elements together on stage; it will be very telling.

Tony: I first met Bill at The Actors Studio. We are both members of the Playwrights and Directors Unit. We did a reading of the play there and Bill immediately understood it in a way that taught me about it. He loved it so much he’s producing it. He understands the play as well as, if not better than, I do. I look forward to seeing it on its feet.

Many thanks, Ilene and Tony; it was terrific to get your inside perspectives on the play and its background. I, too, am looking forward to seeing it!

1-2-3 Manhunt plays October 7-24, 2021, at The Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, NYC. For tickets, go online. All patrons must be fully vaccinated in order to attend the show and are required to provide proof. Everyone must wear a face mask for entry into the theater and when moving around.


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