permission to speak feature 2

Off-Broadway Theater – Paul Mecurio’s “Permission To Speak” – A Review


First posted online on November 15, 2018; updated on February 25, 2019.


Who would have thought that a Georgetown Law graduate and former investment banker would have a celebrated career as a comic? Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Paul Mecurio has gained critical acclaim as a comedian for almost 25-years! From writing jokes for Jay Leno to being the opening act for Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show,” Mecurio is no stranger to TV or the stand-up world. His quasi-immersive, innovative, fun solo show, “Permission To Speak,” scores a high five!

Mecurio has an uncanny knack for picking three or four unusual subjects from his audience each evening. He astutely selects assorted attendees at random to come to talk about their personal stories on stage, and then he rifts with them. Mecurio engages in comical improvisational banter that reveals much about his guests. The interesting exchanges allow Mecurio to create a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere, where he invites his guests to share incredible, intimate details, without crossing delicate boundaries.

The night I attended, Mecurio selected “dating” as the theme of his show. He carefully elicited “how we met” stories from each of his guests. Mecurio chose an upbeat and amusing 70-year old couple — widowers that had been going out for a little over a year, then a young Muslim woman in her early 20s, and finally, a 60ish divorcee, who looked like he may have attended Woodstock.

The seated audience witnessed these participants recount fascinating tales of their attempts to develop meaningful relationships with each other, or participate in the dating world. The woman from Dubai kept Mecurio on his toes with a witty exchange about her family’s preferences about dating and marriage. She stated that she had not dated, but would have a husband arranged for her after she graduated from college. She contradicted Mecurio’s assumption that arranged marriages were ill-fated, citing her parents’ successful arranged marriage. The young woman was surprisingly playful in her defense of the practice of an arranged marriage. With a twinkle in her eye, she said she was betrothed to an investment banker, aware that Mecurio had referenced his background at the outset of the show. “I think you know about that world, but I am sure bankers are different in New York City and have more of a sense of humor.”

Every night is different and has distinct energy, and each show is unscripted. Being given “permission to speak” in this context provides an entertaining, interactive and improvisational evening—a unique speak-easy event that is easy-going, as well as enlightening and captivating.


Paul Mecurio’s “Permission To Speak” is created, performed, and directed by Paul Mecurio.

Set consultation by Jim Fenhagen.

Digital mapping by Tim Donovan and Ryan Kelly of Bravo Media and Optoma Projection.

Lighting design by Michael Scricca.


The running time is 75 minutes.


Address: Actors Temple Theatre, 339 W. 47th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues.


Upcoming dates: Wednesday, March 6th at 8:00; and Wednesday, March 13th at 8:00.


Ticket Information:



Cynthia Allen is a professor at New York University, with teaching interests involving art, music and new media: how the role of new media impacts all aspects of culture and society. She has been involved in film production in various capacities since the 1980s — film producer, arts archive consultant, and more — working with such celebrated filmmakers as Joel and Ethan Coen, Sergio Leone and Martin Scorsese. She is actively involved in the audio book, radio drama and podcasting community, serving as the Festival Director of HEAR Now: The Audio Fiction & Arts Festival for over seven years. For over 16 years, she has been the director and editor of Modern Theatre Online, a theater archive and cultural website.  Since 2006, she has been and continues to be the website director and editor for the theater critics organization, the Outer Critics Circle (OCC), as well as being on the OCC Executive Board. For over 14 years, she has been a theater, music and arts critic for such media publications as Theater Scene, Stage and Candor and Hi! DRAMA.

Cynthia can be contacted at


Lead-In Image Courtesy of Paul Mercurio’s “Permission To Speak”

Permission to Speak - Program Cover - Color Logo