07/25/2011 05:12 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2011

Stage Door: The Shoemaker, Victory

Incorporating traumatic events on stage is tricky. In the case of The Shoemaker at the Acorn Theater, it's handled with care. An Italian Jew relieves the horrors of his childhood in fascist Italy on 9/11. The touching play, by Susan Charlotte, stars Danny Aiello as the shoemaker, a sensitive, literate man who copes with pain by hiding in his midtown store.

We meet three people on this tragic day: the shoemaker, a stunned customer (Alma Cuervo) and Louise (Lucy DeVito), a young girl. All share their lives, however briefly, in a poignant way.

The Shoemaker is not a period piece; it's about the power of connection, however momentary, and how traumatic events haunt us forever. Charlotte skillfully links her characters -- parents and children, average New Yorkers -- by loss. It is not a poetic work, but deeply moving in its quiet restraint and simple dignity.

The Shoemaker understands the tenuous nature of existence and the eternity of love. Aiello and Cuervo deliver solid performances; DeVito is fine, though a bit more craft would finesse her character and underscore what is inescapable: the primal place of parents in our hearts. The play should run without an intermission; this tearful, thoughtful work deserves our undivided attention.

Victory addresses the aftermath of the 1660 battle between the decadent court of Charles II (David Barlow) and the just-ousted, but equally tyrannical Puritans, led by the recently executed John Bradshaw. When his widow (the versatile Jan Maxwell) sets out to reclaim his body, she embarks on a terrible journey of degradation, albeit with some cutting monologues in tow.

Politics is sordid and hypocritical, and she encounters rabid believers of every stripe -- from her husband's loyal secretary (Steven Dykes) to a lascivious cavalier (Robert Emmet Lunney). Playwright Howard Barker, who specializes in historical drama (Scenes From an Execution), is a capable, interesting writer, but he muddies the waters this round.

Despite potentially compelling subject matter, Victory, at the Atlantic Stage 2, isn't focused. And not for lack of historic material: Charles II's court was hedonistic and troubled, following the harsh reign of Oliver Cromwell. The Restoration was accompanied by social change, as well as ongoing religious battles. Theaters, closed by order of Cromwell, were reopened; bawdy Restoration comedy, which Victory mimics in part, became a legitimate genre.

At nearly three hours, the play, though well acted by the company, is confusing and repetitive. We don't need endless scenes of mindless debauchery to get the point: Charles is a foppish nightmare. Worse, the scenes are inter-cut with loud music by the Sex Pistols. Punk may celebrate anarchy and nihilism, but when the drama is already posited as either high-minded observations or high-pitched squealing, the oddly chosen music adds insult to injury.

However, there are several noteworthy performances, as the wanton Devonshire, Michaela Lieberman is a standout, as is Barlow as the king; supporting roles, such as Clegg, the court poet (Robert Zuckerman) and Dyke, are strong. The costumes and lighting are, too. Sadly, the production is as exhausting as it is obtuse. Like the Stuart monarchy, Barker needs a critical editor to rein in his excesses.