A Matter Of Choice
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
August 14, 2010
Although it's a cliche to say that New York is constantly changing, it's a cliche all of us living here will expound upon. It doesn't matter if someone's lived here for a few years or all his or her life, they will invariably mourn the death of cheap rents, mom-and-pop stores in an area, or their favorite bar. To quote a children's book my parents read to me as a kid, "Nothing lasts forever, especially in New York."
This is a cliche—or truth—that the characters in Chad Beckim's A Matter of Choice, currently directed by T.C. Burtt, Jr. and Alicia Dempster at the SoHo Playhouse, are confronted with head-on.
In A Matter of Choice, three longtime friends—grumpy Puerto Rican Chastity, semi-street tough Diggs, and timid and gay Webb—are living together in a self-proclaimed twisted version of Three's Company. Their Manhattan apartment is clearly rent-controlled—it's mentioned that it's a three-bedroom with a rent of $900 a month. But if a three-bedroom apartment renting for less than a thousand dollars sounds too good to be true, we quickly find that yes, it really is: turns out it's in the way of development for the endlessly-under-construction Second Avenue subway line. As is always the case with this city, one new development arises at the expense of the old.
The roommates get a notice from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that they have three weeks to vacate the premises, and are given the option of being relocated to Staten Island on the MTA's dime, or finding housing on their own. This proves to be a major dilemma, not just because they won't find such an amazing deal like the one they currently have, but because the quasi-family dynamic they've made and have been a part of for years will be broken up. We then see how this is both a good and sad thing.
The show as a whole is engaging and enjoyable, with interesting characters having interesting conversations about our ever-changing city, growing up within its confines, and how the city has changed them. Its 75-minute runtime also breezes by in almost a blink. I particularly enjoyed a mini-monologue from Diggs—who has lived in the neighborhood all his life—lamenting the homogenization of the city and how it's steadily losing its character.
Still, there are problems with some threads of the story, such as introducing characters that appear to be only brought onstage for mere plot devices—such as Diggs's friend-of-a-friend Madison, whose sole contribution to the story seems to be just that her father happens to be a real estate broker. And there is a big problem with a subplot concerning Webb, his boyfriend Michael, and Chastity.
Webb is in a very abusive relationship, both emotionally and physically. He comes home crying one night, bruised and covered in blood. Michael has beaten him—or thrown beer bottles at his head, if we want to split hairs—and Chastity nurses Webb back to health. This is apparently the routine for these three. But this routine is brought up very late in proceedings. In the first half of the play, we don't get any indication from Ashley Marie Ortiz's performance that Chastity is nurturing or codependent. And although there are some oblique references to Michael's past infidelity and violent youth early on, from the way Nicholas Wilder plays Michael in his first few scenes, his later portrayal of him as a belligerent sociopath feels abrupt and jarring.
I don't meant this to be a slight on the actors, since they—and everyone in the ensemble—are quite good. But this dynamic feels underdeveloped and as a result makes these later scenes appear to come out of left field.
And let's face it: A Matter of Choice isn't about intricate plotting, it's about examining the evolving and changing nature of the city in microcosm. It's a thoughtful and entertaining character study and meditation on how homes and friendships change, and how that change is slow and steady, yet always feels like it happens overnight. Hey, nothing lasts forever, especially in New York.