Five Story Walkup
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
March 23, 2007
Edith O'Hara, the owner of the theater at 13th Street Rep, just celebrated her 90th birthday. She warmly shook my hand and thanked me for coming to the theater. She lives upstairs from the theater itself, and personally handed me and my guest our simple red tickets and our playbills for the evening. If anyone has forgotten what an intimate experience it can be to attend theater in NYC, Edith O'Hara is a living reminder.
She addresses the audience at the close of Five Story Walkup, an amalgamation of pieces loosely connected by the premise of "looking at the places we call home." Playwrights as notable as John Guare and Neil LaBute have donated monologues and short plays for this commendable project, and the collection is noteworthy for the talent performing on stage as well. But the best story is doubtless the fight to keep 13th Street Rep open and out of the hands of real estate developers; it deserves its own slot on the playbill. And also a speedy and dutiful visit from a theatergoer, who can feel confident that Five Story Walkup has significant artistic merit along with the higher goal of saving a 200 year old building from the wrecking ball.
Five Story Walkup begins with a terrific monologue by the gifted Laura Shaine entitled Web Cam Woman. Performed by the criminally talented Cynthia Mace and directed by Daniel Gallant (who directed every piece in the evening), it tells of a middle-aged woman who has decided to rig her apartment up with seven cameras and several microphones and speakers and broadcast her home life on the Internet—and she gets paid $10,000 a month to do it. In quite the coincidence, I went to college at the same time the originator of this concept, the Jenni-Cam, was doing the exact same thing in her dorm room. Similarly, the Web Cam Woman does everyday things, and also is commanded to masturbate regularly. Mace is positively brilliant (and her casting by Shaine is a stroke of genius) as she sneaks around the cameras, uses all of the available theater space, and twists and turns with her own emotions about how's she selling herself. The work is powerful, dynamic, riveting—an excellent beginning.
Things dip precipitously during the next monologue, A Glorious Night, written by Daniel Frederick Levin. Harry, played by David Randolph Irving, is a lonely man who is setting up the perfect date, but it seems that he's a bit of loser who is not speaking to a normal date, but perhaps a prostitute. This is conjecture from me as it's never made clear who he's speaking to, but it doesn't go well, and neither does the piece.
Aux Cops, by Quincy Long, on the other hand, is a nice bounceback as an overeager volunteer, Sidney (Thomas Eckermann) is interviewed by a Lieutenant (a sublimely funny Gallant) about joining the auxiliary police force. Certainly the backdrop of current events regarding the relative dangers of auxiliary police duty is not referenced here, but Gallant's take on a stoic Lieutenant remains extremely amusing.
bird feeder is a darkly poetic monologue written and performed by Clay McLeod Chapman. Chapman's prose is haunting, beautifully written, poignant, and elegiac. His performance matches the text note for note. I cannot spoil the plot of the monologue without ruining any element of surprise. I can tell you that it's about a love between two people that transcends the body and is truly moving and disturbing.
Tripartite, written by Gallant (who can't stop working, apparently), is a tale of two brothers, Oscar (Irving) and Ryan (Eckermann), who are alternately irritated and romantically bewitched by their neighbor Renee (Kayla Lian) in a suburban enclave. Mixed identities and fraternal rivalries are talked of in circular fashion, but this piece doesn't quite resonate.
Love At Twenty, however, is another standout monologue, donated by the casually brilliant Neil LaBute. Arguably the most prolific and thought-provoking modern playwright, LaBute has crafted another moral dilemma, brought to stunning life by the gorgeous and talented Kira Sternbach. Playing a Lolita character that would make Christina Ricci beg for mercy, Sternbach's Young Woman draws a correlation from the number twenty to all of the vital events in her life. The sinful affair with her professor (as she is at the age of twenty, of course) and the possible downfall of his marriage are mere trifles in this one-sided perspective piece, which of course makes us think about how this affects "the other," as all of LaBute's best work does. This monologue stacks up well.
Blue Monologue, a well-crafted contribution from John Guare, is a confessional piece from Guare himself, and touches on his Queens upbringing. Performed exceptionally well by the ever-present Gallant, this piece feels like a dramatic stylization of a travel log or a diary, but in a pleasant, sepia-toned type narrative. It's poignant, comforting, and little bit like coming home. And the evening ends, and you leave out the center aisle, into the lobby of the 13th Street Rep, where Edith O'Hara's couches beckon to have you sit down one more time before you head outside, back into Manhattan. And you hope that you get to come back to the 13th Street Rep soon, very soon.