nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
August 19, 2010
If you think life is unbearable the next time you're stuck in line at the post office, take a second and imagine what it's like for the boys and girls in blue on the other side of the counter. The hours are long, the work repetitive, and in this age of the machine (and FedEx), you're seen as insane to not take the increasingly paltry "early retirement option" being shoved at you by management. It's a bleak state of affairs being painted by Scott Klavan in the tightly wound, thoroughly enjoyable drama P.O.
In his 23rd year of employment in the sorting room of a Queens post office, Mike marches into yet another Monday only to find himself stuck having to work beside Paul, a "floater" with a thirst for beautiful women and home-made dance steps. From Mike's first glare at Paul, their oil-and-water relationship is palpable. As P.O. evolves however, it becomes clear that Klavan is after more than the typical "odd couple" scenario. Mike is unhappy with what he sees as the dying of the culture his immigrant father helped to build. In his America, people are promoted because of their work, not skin tone or accent. People, not machines, sort the mail, and they do it with pride, and in the end, are rewarded with fair retirement packages fought for and won by a union that still cares about its members. It is this world Mike wishes to pass down to his kids, at least on those few occasions that the wife he once controlled allows visitation. Further disrupting Mike's teetering surroundings is the outlook of Paul. Unattached but not unaware, Paul sees no reason to fight that which cannot be overcome. The ways of the world have too much momentum, so what's the use? In a small room at the back of the aging post office, these two distinct world views clash in a play that is more about ideas than story.
John Amedro's performance as Mike has been with me for a couple days now. It's hard-shelled and from deep resources, yet accessible. Mike's own failings and personal baggage are constantly warring with what he sees as the demise of a culture, and the anger emitted by this conflict is felt all throughout the Kraine Theatre. Out of a very tough, disgruntled aging man, Amedro gives us something very human. It's worth the trip to East 4th Street to see. As Paul, playwright Klavan is less successful in painting a full picture of his character. While I agree with Paul's philosophy much more than Mike's old school mentality, I never found myself concerned with his outcome. Klavan also has a very slow delivery, which hampered the pace in moments that should have been much more electric. P.O. could also benefit from more thoughtful staging. While director Ian Streicher has squeezed much of the juice from this script and its two characters, the blocking seems an afterthought, with uninspired movement and fight scenes that were awkward and sloppy.
P.O. is a fine play because for once (it seems), the work being done onstage is about something more than lost love, bad family relations, or a twentysomething finding himself. With two characters on the back end of midlife, their concerns are grounded in being alive long enough to see the nation, its culture, and economy change entirely. No job, even a government one, is secure, being white doesn't guarantee as much as it once did, and technology is pushing us forward at a breakneck speed. Klavan, in focusing on this aspect of our modern life has given the New York theatre a really wonderful gift; one which I hope doesn't fade away with the Fringe.