THEATRICAL REVIEWS. Starting with ‘Punch Me in the Stomach,’ written by Alison Summers and Deb Filler. Starring Deb Filler. Directed by Alison Summers

By Israel Horovitz

‘Punch Me in the Stomach’ written by Alison Summers and Deb Filler.
“Deb Filler surfaced at la Mama last week, all too briefly, in a most extraordinary work entitled “Punch Me in the Stomach,” co-authored by Filler and her multi-talented director Alison Summers. We laugh, and we weep, and we do so hope “Go On, Punch Me In The Stomach” resurfaces, and soon, so that we might send our friends to bear witness to a stunning evening of theatre that is as black as comedy gets.”


Funny, sad —and true

“The music stops, the stage goes dark for a moment, and then Filler is speaking, herself, about taking her father back to the camps. The story is simple, really, no one Big Moment, and that makes it all the more stunning. It is quiet, brave and true, and, like the rest of the snow, magnificent.”

“The technical demands are incredible. The material is overwhelming. And the questions of style, taste and tone are baffling. Yet Punch Me in the Stomach works perfectly. It’s hilarious. It’s tragic. It’s distressing. It’s inspiring.
(But) as for style, taste and tone, Filler and her co-writer and director Alison Summers have it all…It seems impossible. But it works beautifully.”


A ‘Punch’ with a Holocaust hook
“The show’s writing, by Filler and Alison Summers, is consistently clever. Summers’ direction manages the transitions between drama and comedy seamlessly. Many in the audience were reaching for their handkerchiefs.”

THE GLOBE AND MAIL December 1993
Trip of a Lifetime.
“While much of the show is funny, this is not stand-up comedy. There are heartwarming and tear jerking scenes as well, notably when the father being interviewed on television, recalls his experiences in the death camps, and later as he and his daughter finally tour those camps.
But even at its most emotional, Punch Me keeps its sense of humour. Humour about the Holocaust? As Sol says, a sense of humour is necessary to survive, in the camps or in life—another lesson with universal applications.

THE AGE.  APRIL 10, 1992

A triumph out of a tragedy. (At the Gasworks Theatre)

“This is a collaboration between Filler and her Australian born New York based director Alison Summers. Together they have devised a production so finely honed that barely a word is wasted or a gesture rendered superfluous. “Punch Me in the Stomach” is an all too rare moment of theatre that should not be missed. What a travesty its season is so brief.”


“A winner. This is a return season to Melbourne, and it has toured widely —and all this shows. There is not one word or nuance too many. Each word and gesture has its place within a minor digression or character description, which ultimately adds up to a layered and universally significant story about the triumph of the human spirit.”

THE AGE By Leonard Radic 1993.

Punch Me in the Stomach is a warm, affecting artistically daring and thoroughly ingratiating show.


“This one woman show —a return to Melbourne after a sell-out 1992 season— reveals a remarkable and complex talent for arousing mixed emotions in the audience. There is nothing heavy-handed or didactic about the simultaneous evocation of laughter and tears, but we do go away from this show with a different understanding of what being a survivor means. It means celebrating the human conditions with laughter that also commemorates suffering.”


At Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney.

“A Sydney premiere for this dazzling black comedy before it returns to further touring in the US…  Deb Filler portrays more than thirty characters from her extended family to reveal the secret of endurance… A performance of humor and integrity in which laughter triumphs over pain.”


“ The strengths of Punch Me in the Stomach are its comedy and its poignancy…It is beautifully written, especially the encounter between Sol Filler and a tour guide in Hut 19 at Auschwitz. It brilliantly sets up the laughter at the end where relief and the surety of survival can mingle with absurdity.”


“Punch Me in the Stomach is exceptional theatre. It’s very funny, and deeply emotional. It’s to be welcomed for its brilliance and its refusal to play safe. This theatre take risks with an icon that we’ve grown accustomed to treating with absolute reverence. In the process, it not only makes the tragedy more real, it reminds us that in a sense we are all children of that genocidal, hate-filled time.”

July 11, 1993. NORTH SHORE SUNDAY, Massachusetts, July 11, 1993

“Two Good to be True.”

Up at the Gloucester Stage Company, where the theatre is small and the budgets are small, the emphasis had always been on the acting and the writing. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect marriage of the two than in their current production of Jim Cartwright’s “Two.”

But it’s one thing to find a great play, and it’s another to bring it to life with stellar actors. This GSC production is a perfect combination of an endearing script and dynamite performances. In “Two”, the effect, the images, the sounds, linger long after the final black-out.

In “Two” O’Brien and Shipley weave a beautiful, powerful emotional tapestry on the Gloucester Stage. It’s one of the richest pieces of theatre on the North Shore in recent memory, and fans of fine acting are strongly encouraged to make the trip.


“Worth Seeing Twice; Gloucester Stage Company is nearly flawless in “Two.”

“Two” is a nearly flawless summer treat that no theater lover should miss. Wonderfully acted, painstakingly directed, the USA premiere of Jim Cartwright’s London hit is a gem of a production…Director Alison Summers has done a perfect job tuning this production. It’s tight, well timed, and finely paced. The set and the lighting is just right to create the mood of the piece.”

North Shore Magazine. Massachusetts.July 8, 1993.

“GSC’s ‘Two’ is the one show to see.

“If you see only one show on the North Shore this summer, make it “Two.” Currently enjoying its American premiere at the Gloucester Stage Company, “Two” is Jim Cartwright’s hilarious and insightful depiction of the denizens of a working class British pub. Moreover this multi character comedy with its serious, touching denouement, is performed by only two actors. Fortunately both Sandra Shipley and Paul O’Brien possess the high energy, versatility, concentration and finesse demanded. The chemistry between them is consistent, cracking and convincing. They manage to take the audience into the very heart of their characters.”


The Goldberg Variations by Marcy Kahan.

“The creative directorial hand of Alison Summers gleams through all these consistently appealing performances.”

BACKSTAGE June 1994.

Hysteria and Truth and Sex by Susan Cinoman.

“Directed by Alison Summers, the dynamics switch on a dime, actors tackling their roles with gusto and imbuing this piece with a heady momentum. Equally potent are the women in ‘Truth and Sex’, also directed by Summers.”

TIME OUT March 1998

Whale Music by Anthony Minghella. Dir.Alison Summers.

“Anthony Minghella is a man who knows women. Five female castaways during the course of two quiet but beautiful acts, find each other…Whale is a collage of short scenes. Each fragment stands out vividly like a bright stone you’d pick up at a beach. Minghella’s women ( including the hilarious Amanda Peet) are so real that watching them together in a coffee shop or a kitchen or a hospital waiting room, you feel you’re in that suspended place that exists only around the truly good stories of the world—where you can see everything but no one can see you. In this play, you are a fly on the damp, peeling wall —the very best thing an audience member can be.

If Whale is a window into women’s lives, it is as much because of director Alison Summer’s obvious skill as because of Minghella’s perceptiveness. Summers shines a steady light on the real development here —that of the friendship between five engaging women.”

NEW YORK POST. Clive Barnes January 1998

Phaedra. Classic Stage Company

“Tautly directed by Alison Summers, and most intelligently acted. Rightly domineering the play is Kathleen Chalfant’s imperial Phaedra, suffering with pain and dignity both love and age with equal passion.Yes, Phaedra still speaks to our time.”

VARIETY February 1998.


“In this update of the ageless tragedy. Kathleen Chalfant displays a beautifully progressive emotional pattern of ecstasy, anger, remorse and calm resignation.”

Artistic Director of Toe Truck Theatre 1987-1989.


“Don’t Tell Anyone’ by Brian Joyce.

The Toe Truck Theatre Company. Artistic director Alison Summers

Director Alison Summers blends all these elements into a robustly humane and shameless show which gives real meaning to the superlative – it’s a must!”


Operation Holy Mountain.

“Toe Truck’s latest offering can only help to consecrate the company’s reputation for intelligent, politically edged drama. Under the astute direction of Alison Summers, the play’s political objectives are realized.

“The creative directorial hand of Alison Summers gleams through all these consistently appealing performances.”


NEWSDAY, New York City 1992.

‘During rehearsal Filler needed to return to the barricaded fortresses that were Aushwitz and Theresienstadt, and Summers guided her through.

“Alison has actually become my best friend,” says Filler. “She listens and she’s kind. It is unusual to have that kind of experience with a director because they’re so busy and are more concerned with the work. Alison has actually made time for me.”

May 2000 Sun Herald

” In New York, Summers has defined herself as a talented director through persistence and sheer pluck. On arriving in New York the realization she’d have to prove herself from scratch despite an established reputation in Australia hit Summers hard. Juggling the demands of a four year old and a newborn, she plunged into co-writing and directing a one woman show with a performer she met on a treadmill at the gym. Rave reviews gave Summers the momentum to work for noted companies such as New York Theatre Workshop, The Women’s Project and Circle Rep. She has since directed more than 30 productions in the world’s most competitive stage industry.”

Around New York City:
• David Baerwald. July 2002.
• “The delightful and charming Alison Summers directed a reading of my book at a local club called the Fez, and it was fun, fun, fun.…Sean Penn read brilliantly, as did Paul Rudd who I had never met before but who has earned in me a lifelong fan by dint of his graciousness, intelligence and overall class.”

From the desk of the artistic director of Circle Rep Lab:

“Her work has been exemplary. Ms Summers’ excellence in directing includes an understanding of the actor’s process which results in inspired performances, a sensitivity to the writer’s intentions allowing her to serve as dramaturg for new works, and a wonderful sense of theatricality making her shows exciting and accessible.

“Alison Summers creates an atmosphere of trust and harmony in her rehearsals while establishing her own vision. she has no negative qualities in my experience,  and her cheerful and unflappable personality make her a joy in the theatre work place.”

From newspapers articles about Alison Summers:

The Weekend Australian

“I’m always looking for projects to do with her, and that’s the biggest compliment you could pay a director,” says Schuyler Grant, an actor who has been directed by Summers in plays and readings. “She’s very gentle and she coaxes a performance out of you rather than demands it. Alison is very sensitive and she brings that to her directing, but she’s also incredibly intelligent and perceptive and hard-working.”

Julia Miles, founder and artistic director of the Women’s Project Theatre company, puts it this way. “She has an unerring ear and eye for talent, she works well with playwrights. But her absolutely strongest gift is casting.”

Courier Mail 1994

The respect she has earned in the theatre community there means that she can walk projects straight into a theatre, introduce new writers, freely use normally expensive space and get access to expert advice.

New York Stage and Film readings co-ordinator Saudi Johnson said “it’s wonderful” working with Alison, because she had “such strength and calm.”

The Australian 1998

“Alison’s definitely right now at the stage where she’s someone to watch, which is a very exciting period of time for any artist,” says Nina Keneally who produced the 1997 Tony Award-winning play ‘The Last Night at Ballyhoo.”

“I’ve watched how Alison has very intelligently and creatively built a foundation for herself in American theatre. She understands how to read a script and how to develop it dramaturgically, until it’s ready for production, and she’s very successful at working with the playwright.

“I also think she’s able to craft an atmosphere of complete trust and security for the actors, which helps the playwright develop the work further during the rehearsal process.”




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