Heist! is a funny, upbeat new showcase for highly talented musical theater artists. Directed by James Will McBride, the show concerns three bank robbers —Gil (Cordara Newson), Jack (Alec Irion) and Chris (James Cella)—and a job gone bad. Their robbery fails, and only Gil and Jack escape. Jack spirals downward at the news that Chris was killed by the police.
Words are constantly shifting and changing meaning, and common phrases take on new personas in the world of Lauren Yee’s In a Word. Yee’s play tells the story of Fiona (Laura Ramadei), whose 7-year-old, emotionally disturbed son, Tristan, has been missing for two years. She has no information on his whereabouts, and she sorts through her memories endlessly to find any clue she can about why he disappeared. As Fiona flashes back to past experiences, Yee asks the audience to let go and come along for the ride.
With a whole host of traditional plays and musicals available to choose from, it is sometimes refreshing when theater artists in New York City experiment with form. Creator and producer Brett Epstein’s Rule of 7x7 is just that: an experiment in playwriting wherein seven playwrights each declare a “rule” that must be incorporated into each play. These rules range from a word, a line, or a specific stage direction. To intensify the process, the artists involved have just one month to mount these short plays from conception to performance.
How tightly does the average American cling to a confabulation of love? If pop culture’s steady stream of uninspired TV shows and mildly erotic paperbacks is any indication, people seem to be grasping for any and all channels that lead to answering this question. Unsurprisingly, New York theater offers an intelligent, mesmerizing counter: The Effect, a play by Lucy Prebble. The Effect has a singularly moving tension at its core: can two people fall in love under “the effect” of a powerful anti-depressant? Or is love simply the side effect of that drug?
Barrow Street Theatre’s exceptional take on this award-winning play (it received rave reviews and multiple awards in London and has struck similar chords of awe Off-Broadway), pushes us to seriously consider a fanciful four-letter word that ordinarily inks the pens of poets. Director David Cromer orchestrates this production with white-knuckled excitement at the mere prospect of discovering something unknown about love. The Effect suggests a new, intoxicating interpretation of modern romance, unbothered by moral clichés or excessive sentiment.
The play opens inside a sanitized hospital room, with quiet colors and sensible chairs and white lab coats. Connie Hall (played by a fantastic Susannah Flood) is being interviewed by Dr. James, her clinical supervisor. She is careful and precise, answering every question with painstaking clarity—sometimes to humorous effect. Next, Tristan Frey (a terrific Carter Hudson) plops himself down in from of Dr. James and proceeds to flirt, extemporize and generally misbehave. These two main characters could not be more different from each other. In the confines of their six-week-long aphrodisiac existence as part of the drug trial of an antidepressant, Connie and Tristan discover each other in themselves, each pushing the other to believe in their respective ideas of love.
Cromer urges nervous humor in Flood and Hudson’s performances. The two protagonists carry conversations like precocious babes endowed early with the power of speech. Flood’s Connie is a study in fastidious, think-first-talk-later practicality, but Hudson’s inspired Tristan Frey is endlessly energetic, dancer-like and hell-bent on talking Connie into falling for him. It isn’t enough to say that their chemistry is palpable; when their eyes meet, each magnetizes the other’s performance, elevating the entire production to goosepimply electricity.
As for the emotional trauma of falling in love—for it is, the play argues, a kind of trauma—Cromer reserves such hefty work for Steve Key and Kati Brazda. Understated, Brazda plays the most unexpectedly affecting character, Dr. Lorna James. As the lead psychologist of the antidepressant study, James begins her arc as a dry clinical supervisor, reining in the sexual urges of Connie and Tristan with the amused authority of an animal handler. But as her interactions with Dr. Toby Sealey (Key) reveal, she hides a deep, corrosive wound, thanks in large part to her beliefs in love and attachment. It is through James that we see the real pitfalls of love—the ones Prebble wants to warn us about.
The players are not Cromer’s only tools, however; moving walls, suggestively dark corners and flashing text are sleek supplements to the overall effect of the play (the scenic design is by Marsha Ginsberg and lighting design is by Tyler Micoleau). These additives do not distract from the entire play, as one might expect, but rather enhance Prebble’s narrative. A particularly hilarious scene involves both Connie and Tristan taking a psychological test in which they must name the colors of the words that flash on a screen before them. James dryly notes that her subjects will falter at words that they associate with emotional burden. “Father,” “diet,” “breasts” and “guilty” prove particularly difficult for our lovers.
Cromer aims to show us a precise examination of falling in love, with all its awkward pauses, fitful first moves and, yes, even sex, in all its clinical vulnerability. Prebble’s commentary on modern love is a moving, masterly ode to humanity’s endless pursuit of answers to nebulous ideas. The Effect disturbs and excites—your notions of everything from intimacy to depression will take a hit, for the better.
Barrow Street Theatre’s production of The Effect runs through Sept. 4. Evening performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees are Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased by visiting SmartTix.com, on the phone at 212-868-4444, or in person at the Barrow Street Theatre box office, open at 1 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.BarrowStreetTheatre.com
Who says you can’t find love on a train? Trains are very romantic. Anything can happen on a train. And it does to the two star-crossed maybe/maybe-not lovers in Jerry Mayer’s new comedy, 2 Across at St. Luke's Theatre. Evelyn Rudie (Eloise, among many others), directs a cast that stars award-winning performers, Andrea McArdle and Kip Gilman. Streamlined direction and crisp performances keep this tête-a-tête comedy rolling down the tracks on an early morning commute for an entertaining look at love and the lonely.
Two commuters on a San Francisco BART train meet and duke it out over The New York Times crossword puzzle. And the battle of the sexes is on. Janet, played by Andrea McArdle (polished actress of Annie fame), is a psychiatrist who has just said goodbye to her son who joined the Marines against her wishes. Josh, played by actor extraordinaire Kip Gilman, is an out-of-work advertising man. She is a control freak; he is a freewheeler. They clash.You can always tell a person by the way they do a crossword. And they learn much about each other and themselves as they roll down the tracks competing with their puzzles. Josh inadvertently helps her with her son and she helps him regain his confidence to find a job. As they build up and let down their barriers of emotional baggage, we can relate to the inner yearnings of these two lonely people. After “Granite” Janet’s strategy of helping Josh finish the crossword and tearing down her defenses, they find they are just two vulnerable people with the thought of the romantic possibilities.
Full of quick banter reminiscent of the great classic sitcoms such as "Mash" from which Mayer is renowned, 2 Across is stylish and witty. Gilman is a mix of Al Pacino and Alan Alda; a bit quirky, yet macho, and very charming. Used to enticing women with his wits, Josh is surprised to learn that he has a certain physical appeal as well. McArdle is gorgeous as a neurotic Mary Tyler Moore type. The perfect romantic touch is when Josh recites classic love poems to woo her. All it takes to let her defenses down is poetry, a sandwich and a couple of mini bottles. This is true of any woman, right? Josh finally lowers her stoic resistance and by the time it is their stop, she has conceded she will meet him… or not.
Rudie’s lively direction kept the candid dialogue going. The train setting, designed by Scott Heineman, was so detailed; the intercom voice, the sounds and seats were all so specific. But when the actors stood up, there was no acknowledgement of a moving train. They could have made subtle moves to indicate the jumps and jolts of the train to create the feeling that they were in fact travelling. As nimble as these performers were, there could have been choreographed in-sync movements once or twice that would have really enhanced the overall effect. This is only a minor detail in an otherwise seamless performance by an ensemble of consummate professionals.
At curtain call, they sang a lovely duet that was probably the best part of the show. The play definitely lends itself to music. It would have enhanced the evening to hear more of McArdle’s exquisite singing. She is absolutely gorgeous, but the writing somewhat stifled her, often giving Gilman the wittier lines and more freedom of interpretive movement. The humor at times was a tad bit too old school machismo. McArdle was stymied as the uptight straight liner who gives into the stronger, wiser male. Women are increasingly evolving away from these roles.
But the script was true to life. We trusted the writer and felt safe in the familiar dialogue of two resistant, yet hopeful lovers. Who hasn’t had a fantasy about the person across the aisle doing their crossword, too? We all have those dreams of running away with a stranger on a train. Don’t we?
Jerry Mayer’s 2 Across is in an open-ended run at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th St. between 8th and 9th Aves.) in Manhattan. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $39.50 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or visiting Telecharge.com. For more information, visit 2AcrossThePlay.com.
The Golden Bride ("Di Goldene Kale"), a joyful operetta from 1923 performed on the compact stage at the Museum of Jewish Heritage by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, is set in a small Russian village and begins with a tongue-in-cheek song about money. In Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles, the cast sings “Oi, Oi, The Dollar” when Goldele, a young woman who has been raised by another family learns that her father, who moved to America when she was a child, has died and left her a fortune. Thus begins a tale that folds real-world politics (the metamorphosing face of Russia, immigration and the pursuit of money in America) into a fairytale of love and marriage.
Goldele, buoyantly played by Rachel Policar, loves Misha, the son of the family she has grown up with. Misha is handsome and honorable. They claim their loves goes back to childhood but we can also see why she loves him: Cameron Johnson's Misha is reminiscent of a young Leonardo DiCaprio with his movie star good looks and understated seriousness. Goldele's Uncle Benjamin (played by Bob Ader), however, wants her to move to America and marry his American-born son Jerome. Expertly played by Glenn Seven Allen, Jerome is the opposite of Misha: he is square-jawed and jaunty and speaks of baseball and jazz. Jerome is not interested in Goldele anyway: after a few weeks in the Russian village, he's fallen in love with Khanele played by the wonderful Jillian Gottlieb, who is physically and vocally light as a feather.
The story has many elements of a Shakespearean comedy: a young girl grows up without her mother, but when her father dies and leaves her a fortune, she wants to find her mother. Goldele's urge to find her mother is so strong that she declares to Misha and all the other suitors in the village that she will marry anyone who can can find her mother.
In Act II, everyone comes to America including Goldele's surrogate mother, father, Khanale, and Pinchas, the village matchmaker. Bruce Rebold, wonderfully comic as Pinchas, brings out the central role of the matchmaker's role in Jewish culture (think Fiddler on the Roof and the song "Matchmaker, Matchmaker"). Pinchas hasn't lost any time once he gets to America and offers suitors to the maids who work for Goldele's uncle. They all seem promising enough, but then we learn they have a fault or two. One is rich but blind. Another is kind but missing a leg. And one is tall and handsome but works two jobs: as a window washer and as a waiter at Yonah Schimmel's, the famous knish place still standing on Houston Street.
Although Goldele doesn't need a matchmaker, she may need a shrink. Why does she offer her hand to any suitor who can find her mother when Misha is clearly the best candidate? The others: a deaf shoemaker, a roly-poly cantor, and a tailor, are bumbling and seemingly inept. They are definitely no match for the handsome and worldly Misha. But the primal draw to find her mother is understandable. Perhaps knowing our parents completes us.
Everyone quickly adapts to the rich life in America and play tennis, drink cocktails at tea time and buy new clothing. They continue to speak Yiddish once in the new country, but Goldele's (surrogate) mother, Toybe (played by Lisa Fishman) likes to try out her English. When she shows her husband, Pinchas, a new dress, she asks: “How do you like she?” His response: “You look like a delicious beef roast,” is all the funnier because it hits home the personal or familiar struggle with English as a foreign language. Then he asks: "Why are we speaking English?"
The Golden Bride touches upon some of the basic struggles that immigrants have and the question of why people leave their homeland. The reality of history looms behind the family. In 1923, when the play was written, the changing political climate after the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as World War I (which ended in 1919), would result in poverty, famine and persecution for many. The family is aware that America is a hopeful place even to them who are lucky enough to enter into a life of wealth and ease.
Beautifully rendered sets by John Dinning are highlighted in the final act when the family gathers for a masquerade party. Finishing in true Shakespearean form, a masked stranger appears who brings news to Goldele about Misha and about her mother. But who is this man? And why does he know so much? Although we know, it’s impossible not to feel like cheering when the truth is revealed to Goldele as well.
The cast is superb and their infinite vocal talent is allowed to shine under the aegis of conductor and musical director Zalmen Mlotek with choreography and musical staging by Merete Muenter. The full-bodied singing and dancing accompanied by a live orchestra in The Golden Bride is an especially rare treat in Off-Broadway theater today.
The Golden Bride runs until Jan. 3 in the Edmond J. Safra Hall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (36 Battery Place between 1st Place and Little West St.) in Manhattan. Check the Museum of Jewish Heritage for the full performance schedule. For tickets, call OvationTix at 866-811-4111 or visit the website.