"Apathy, baby!" proclaims Fabian, one of 10 New Yorkers portrayed in the Narcissists's production of C. Commute. "Frozen apathy." At once aware of the pitfalls of his generation's malaise and eager to "gloss it" into artwork that can get him the big break he believes is "just around the corner," this twenty-something captures the paradoxical sentiments of his peers. The 10 urbanites in this new play by Alexander Renison Holt are at once apathetic and hopeful, jaded yet still idealistic, setting the tone for a generation just as Fabian believes his art will. Theatergoers in their 20's and early 30's will no doubt recognize themselves in these characters, identify with their struggles, and laugh in the process.
The play is structured as a series of 10 monologues, the first of which is presented as a voice-over. Besides sharing the city and the zeitgeist, the nine characters who appear onstage also share the same subway car, suggested in Brett Dicus's elegantly minimalist set design by two benches and poles set on a diagonal upstage. The car functions as a holding pen as the actors take turns presenting their monologues downstage.
Director Ryan Colwell deftly choreographs their entries, subway-riding time, and exits to resemble the randomness of being in a true public space, ensuring that what could have been merely a convenient theatrical device actually contributes to the play's urban ennui. The audience sees the characters literally "in the same boat" (or subway car), but remaining in isolation from one another, which is expertly conveyed by the actors' body language and introverted stage business.
Colwell also performs, his delivery highlighting Holt's rhythmic wordplay. He creates a sense of frenetic boredom in the voice-over monologue of Damon, an office worker who time-kills his workdays Web surfing. Dalane Mason is convincingly erratic and creepy as Haberdasher, a nattily dressed pickpocket who spews advice and prophecy, invades commuters' personal space, and causes all to avert their eyes to avoid conversation. Matthew Simon is deliciously jaded as Christopher, an actor and gigolo who just wants his own show on HBO. It is to Simon's credit that Christopher's declaration—"We all sell ourselves for something"—seems organic rather than pedantic.
Jessica Jolly is feisty and fun as Jennifer, a woman written to be somewhat past her prime, though the actress herself is not. Bemoaning the recent trend in straight men becoming effeminate, the character is lively and timely, though she does veer toward the stereotypical as she ponders her physical appearance and the options of breast enhancement and blond hair dye. Holt creates a more multidimensional character in Jude, a gay man pondering the step of leaving the comfort of his neighborhood to move in with his partner. In David Michael Holmes's performance, Jude's ambivalence is heartbreakingly palpable, even as the audience laughs with recognition at his deadpan musing ("Of course, I know he wants me, but how do I know I'm done with all the others?").
Chugging Colt 45 in his cut-off jeans, black T, and red bandana, Fabian surprises with his shrewd theories about the commercialization of art. Patrick Craft conveys the character's no-nonsense attitude and astuteness with equal conviction. Holt indulges in the bittersweet with Greta, a young woman awash in the "unspoken misery that is bliss." Becky Lake easily captures Greta's fragility and resignation, though she occasionally allows the rhythms of the playwright's words to direct her performance rather than wielding them as gracefully as she handles the piece's emotional content.
Salvatore, written as the melodramatic one of the lot, is "a show man, a vampire." Brad Danler's performance vacillates between understated and emphatic, though it's unclear whether this is the result of directorial choice. A more consistently seething delivery would have been more meaningful. Danler, with his hypnotic voice and lithe build, could surely have handled the demands of depicting someone so darkly fascinating, and the realism would have been heightened, not hampered—there are very calculating people who think of themselves in such dramatic terms and comport themselves accordingly.
Tom Picasso portrays Edward, a man financially supported by his wife and suffering feelings of emasculation, with touching vulnerability, while Janine Barris is idealism incarnate as a transplanted farm girl, Donna.
The urban motif is notably enhanced by the sound design of Daemon Hatfield, who has turned the recognizable sounds and rhythms of the subway into eerily evocative electronica that accompanies the intercalary scenes. Kate Haugan's urban-savvy costume design subtly underscores each monologist's persona.
In C. Commute, the Narcissists have delivered on their mission statement to provide "theater as a form of therapy," reflecting the struggles, vices, and vulnerabilities of a generation. The audience will delight in what they see onstage, but will they like what they see in the mirror? Whatever the answer, C. Commute makes for entertaining and thought-provoking theater.