The 5 Borough Plays
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
May 6, 2008
The Milk Can Theatre Company is a collective of playwrights and directors that presents works at various levels of development with a highly theatrical sensibility. Within minutes of the start of this festival of short plays, one gets the impression that the Milk Can Theatre Company is a multitalented, imaginative group of theatrical artists. The 5 Borough Plays is a 75-minute ode to a beloved New York by an adoring New York theatre company. For this program, five playwrights were randomly assigned a borough. The results are inspired and highly entertaining.
The evening begins boldly with Staten Island: Stan and Illy Await the Coming, written and directed by ML Kinney. The play is a daring concept: to convey the general perception that Staten Island is New York City's forgotten borough through an absurdist puppet show based on Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The sock puppeteers (Jonathan Zipper and Zak Kostro) are in superb rhythm with each other. They portray Illy and Stan who eagerly await visitors from the Staten Island Ferry. Aaron Sparks portrays Dog, the equivalent of the boy in Godot who informs our heroes that they will not be coming today. The puppets by Luque Designs are well-conceived and appropriately simple.
Queens: Peace Through Understanding, beautifully written by Cheryl L. Davis and expertly directed by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, is a sweet period piece set at the World's Fair circa 1964. Brad Makarowski (Dick) and Deanna Gibson (Jane) are so exact in their portrayals of a young couple from Queens one feels as though they've gone back in time to post-JFK America. We're given a first-hand glimpse of the world on the eve of a turbulent transformation. The actual storyline of whether the soon-to-be-married couple will spend their afternoon at the World's Fair or a Mets game is almost an afterthought. Their relationship is undeniably true and innocent. This is a different time. Jane accepts that she will abandon a career in architecture to raise a family without hesitation. Davis's script does not comment on Dick's chauvinism or the outdated gender standards of the day. She presents her characters with dignity and humor.
Katie Northlich directs herself in Bethany Larsen's Manhattan: Greater and Greater Things, a heartfelt monologue about the ever-changing face of the Big Apple. Northlich is extremely comfortable and flat-out funny in this bittersweet diatribe of a lifelong love/hate relationship with her city. The language of the piece and the confident timing of the delivery are in perfect sync. The speaker is a native New Yorker. We feel her pain. Her eternal despair and hope is palpable.
The Bronx: A Visit to the Bronx, written by Sharon E. Cooper and directed by Balzer, is literally a sentimental journey to a time long past. This one-act could easily be developed into a full-length production. Sarah Bill plays Adele, a young woman contemplating a move from North Carolina to the Bronx. She skillfully portrays a hardworking modern woman conflicted about relocating to New York to be with her boyfriend. Nnamudi Amobi shines as Jesse, her wise tour guide who transports her back to her grandparents' apartment in post-World War II New York. Once again, the audience is transported into the past. Lian-Marie Holmes and Michael McGuirk play Adele's grandparents lovingly. It seems as though they've been brought to life from a yellowed, cracked photograph.
The evening ends with Brooklyn: 1600 Feet (book by Balzer; music, lyrics, and direction by Colleen Darnall, additional arrangements by Chris Yonan). This mini rock musical about interborough romances between artists is highly entertaining while feeling somewhat like a work-in-progress. The story is a bit unfocused, falling somewhere between a parody and a traditional musical. The actors are in excellent voice, however, and their singing is a joy. Ashley Griffin, Caley Rose, Mike Steinmetz, Robert Letwin Tann, Natalie Weaver, and Chris Yonan make up the magnetic young cast.
The set design by Ann Bartek is quite basic and entirely functional with an upstage scrim cleverly utilized in numerous pieces. Deb O.'s costume design is outstanding. Her costumes capture the essence of the different time periods. Christopher Edwards's lighting design and Daniel Kluger's sound design are quite good.