Mark Ruffalo’s Directorial Debut, Sympathy for Delicious Needs More Magic, Less Magic DJ

An urban parable in the underlit indie tradition, Sympathy for Delicious treats sketchy, moribund storytelling as divine inspiration. First-time director Mark Ruffalo has assembled an exceptional cast—Juliette Lewis, Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney, um, Mark Ruffalo—to surround writer and star Christopher Thornton, but a script that favors incident over story and direction that crowds scenes instead of letting them breathe make for curiously rough going. Former hipster DJ Dean O’Dwyer (Thornton) is a paraplegic who frequents the skids of Los Angeles, hoping, along with everyone under the jurisdiction of street priest Father Roselli (Ruffalo), to be saved. Dean is prickly and obscure, a Greenberg with actual problems. But in this L.A., hurt people heal people, and soon Father Roselli is pimping out Dean’s magical, health-restoring hands—a neat trick discovered by accident, they help everyone but Dean—to fill the church coffer. Disillusioned, Dean joins a band fronted by Bloom in slinky, sexy Jesus mode, and helps turn the band’s club sets into revival meetings, with a fame-hungry healer as the central attraction. Without Lewis, who pockets the few scenes she’s in with her absurd, exotic-bird dignity and Quaalude drone, not even “Delicious D” can save the film from its anti-climactic moral reckoning.


John Belluso’s The Poor Itch

Sadness pervades John Belluso’s The Poor Itch. Given that the play centers on Ian, a young soldier who returns to the U.S. from Iraq without the use of his legs, this isn’t terribly surprising. The piece’s poignancy is enhanced, though, by the inescapable sense that we’ve lost an important theatrical voice: Belluso left it unfinished when he died unexpectedly two years ago, at the age of 37.

In Itch, Belluso takes on the disabled-soldier-returning-home tradition and rips it into the 21st century. He uses familiar elements—Ian living back with his mother, dealing with awkward reactions from friends, and spiraling into drug addiction—but recasts them in a bracingly contemporary light. Additionally, what would otherwise be standard-issue flashback nightmares elevate the play to political fantasia: Current political leaders appear while Ian sleeps, as do Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia. Watching Lisa Peterson’s assured production, which becomes fascinatingly fragmented as it incorporates Belluso’s notes and unfinished scenes, can be like watching Born on the Fourth of July melded with Angels in America.

Christopher Thornton and Deidre O’Connell, playing Ian and his mother, provide exceptional performances in this terrifically complex human drama. Also notable are Susan Pourfar as Ian’s pre-service girlfriend, Marc Damon Johnson as his best buddy in the service, and Alicia Goranson as Ian’s visiting nurse. What will become of the play next remains unclear, but it’s unquestionably an important, haunting addition to the body of work responding to the war in Iraq.