How I Found an Affordable Apartment
nytheatre.com review by Melle Powers
July 24, 2008
How I Found an Affordable Apartment on the Upper West Side Without Really Trying is an autobiographical one-man show written and performed by Charles Gross. While the search for the titular apartment is part of the story, the real center of this play is his love of New York and how he found his true love in this great city.
Picture it: The early '80s to mid-'90s. A post-collegiate young man lives with his family in New Jersey for a few years before he makes the big move to The Big City. We follow his adventures as he subsequently searches for an apartment, a bride, and an affordable way to keep his beloved car in his beloved city.
Gross joyfully narrates these sunny stories to the audience, sitting behind a small table set with only a glass of water and his three-ring binder. He is a likeable and charming guy and as an audience member I was rooting for him from the beginning. His love of theatre and storytelling is evident from the moment he opens his mouth and beamingly announces the title of the show. He recounts numerous sunny episodes about the New York of his youth—a place where payphones were "reliable and worked well", but where getting your car stuck in Harlem during a snowstorm or having your friend talk to a Mexican exchange student in Times Square ("pre-Giuiliani" as he points out), could mean trouble.
Happily for him and his friends, there never was any real trouble to be found, but sadly (from a storytelling point of view) the absence of actual conflict does not make for the most compelling theater. Gross's excitement at sharing these seminal moments in his life with the audience is palpable, but the stories themselves lack tension and teeth. Sometimes the sense of flow is interrupted by side stories that feel random (such as a long piece about two of his female friends and the previously mentioned Mexican exchange student, that, in the end, doesn't lead anywhere). Also missing is a sense of exploration. Gross tells us his stories, but I'm never sure why, beyond the fact that he likes to tell stories. Because there is no urgency to his tale, or connection beyond the surface level of what he is saying, the overall effect inherently lacks theatricality.