Damon and Debra
nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
August 18, 2009
Two New Yorkers wind up stuck alone in a stalled subway car. They come from different worlds and are on two different paths. What happens? It has all the makings of one of those improvised acting exercises—and I know this because I've actually participated in one of these in an acting class many moons ago. And it never failed to be interesting no matter how many pairs of actors you watched do it.
This scenario is the concept behind Damon and Debra, a drama skillfully penned by Judy Chicurel. The two characters she chooses to throw into these circumstances work like magic—a gritty, Italian American woman in her 40s, with a master's degree and a divorce in her past, and a 21-year-old African American hospital worker who was dragged up in foster homes. The dialogue is sharp and funny throughout and the relationship that develops between Damon and Debra grows naturally before our eyes.
While the play works as a whole and the actors more than handle their roles, some things did not feel fully realized. I craved much more tension in the first few minutes—more awkward silences and choppy bits of conversation as the characters assess their situation and each other. Damon and Debra seem too comfortable too quickly and the dialogue flows almost from the beginning. And while we can all chuckle at the too-loud static-filled announcements in subways that no one can understand, I was slightly taken out of this by the simultaneous flashing of the car's lights. It also seems that the characters, after the first initial investigation and discussion about the stopped train, cease to care what the holdup is, even after over an hour of not hearing anything.
Although Damon and Debra are fully realized on paper, the possibilities of several moments seemed to be missed by the actors and their director. Both Michelle H. Zangara and Julito McCullum do fine jobs in their roles, but it felt like they could have gone further. The humorous moments are done quite well, thanks to the natural charm and vivid personality of both actors. But the more emotional beats seem forced at times. Although I laughed often and was engaged in the story I missed a connection to the more vulnerable parts of the piece.
Director Passion has staged the play well and achieved the look and feel of the B train. Despite some underdeveloped parts, there are enough good elements at work here, the writing being the biggest standout, to say Damon and Debra is worth seeing.