nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 1, 2008
Standing Clear gets right to the heart of what it means to be a New Yorker, by examining the institution that, perhaps more than any other, binds us all together on these tiny islands we inhabit: the subway. Using techniques variously culled from the worlds of drama, comedy, dance, musicals, and clown, Standing Clear holds up a mirror to our everyday experiences with the A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, and all the other trains; even when it's a funhouse mirror, it reflects back wise and often overlooked truths. And, oh yes...it's a very entertaining ride.
The show begins with its five writer-performers sitting on what looks like one side of a subway car, looking out at us, on the other side. In turn, they speak their thoughts out loud:
1: When I look at you, all I see is dirty jeans. I mean real dirt on your jeans. A button, like a political button on your jacket, and a journal.
2: When I look at you I want to kick you. You probably smoke cloves and pretend to be a poet with a guitar, "inspired by Jeff Buckley." Yeah. What is she doing? I forgot my orange. Great kisser I know but, run. RUN!
3: When I look at you I see a woman with bad shoes, and a bad dress. You don’t shop much. You work in an office don’t you? For many years. You don’t really know how to work your computer, but you tell people you do. You just know the basics.
4: When I look at you…I see real sweetness. So sweet and secretly really good in bed. Knowing, but not knowing just how good. Leading and following… like a dance.
5: When I look at you, I wonder. Man or woman? Are those your real cheek-bones? And what makes your skin so shiny? Do I have my keys?
I immediately smiled to myself and thought: "Busted!" Here's what we all do during those long and sometimes lonely train rides...what we all think is our own private, naughty secret. Standing Clear offers this sort of communion with our fellow transit-riders, in all shapes and sizes. Not everything is quite as successful as this, but it's all this honest and authentic.
Here are some of the characters we meet on the trains of Standing Clear: A married couple bickering about their daughter's piano recital and, in another scene, her elderly mother who is moving in with them because she has Alzheimer's; a nosy lady with a great many packages, poking into the affairs of anybody on the train who unwittingly provides her an opportunity; a man and a woman sharing a metal pole in the center of a car, doing that dance you do when someone's hand inadvertently slips down right on top of yours; a pair of helpless German tourists with enormous packs on their backs that keep bumping into people. Sound familiar?
At its best, Standing Clear reminds us of the human desires and kindnesses we share that allow us to survive the daily ordeal underground. One story, played out in a series of vignettes throughout the show, depicts the fantasies of a single woman who has made eye contact with a cute guy wearing earphones. Another shows the surprising bond achieved between a sophisticated lady fixing her makeup and the homeless guy nearby who can't stop looking into her compact mirror.
The show is staged with endearing simplicity by director Barbara Karger, who keeps the transitions quick and smooth between the many many scenes, often without even relying on a shift in the four benches that comprise the main part of Kina Park's effective set. Young-Yoon Kim's costumes put each of the cast members in basic gray-and-black, with occasional accessories (bright pink high-heels here, a pair of eyeglasses there) helping to define the various characters. Peter Hoerburger's lighting and Ryan Maeker's sound are indispensable elements of the production design; there are moments when they cannily conjure, for example, the feeling of a lonesome nighttime ride through the artificially-lit tunnel with astonishing specificity.
The five actors who play these many subway riders are excellent: their names are Melinda Ferraraccio, Becca Hackett, Ishah Janssen-Faith, Ben Holbrook, and Jack McGowan. (Janssen-Faith and McGowan are the head writers of Standing Clear and co-founders of Coffee Cup (A Theatre Co.).) I think my favorite moments in Standing Clear are the ones where this quintet moved their characters into the realm of fantastical surrealism, singing and dancing and otherwise doing and saying the kinds of things you're not supposed to do or say when you're surrounded by strangers. One scene shows us the five, in succession, each determining that he or she is alone in the car and then indulging themselves by engaging in that one thing they'd never dream of doing in public. Fantasy, sure; but entirely true.