Tale of 2Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
October 15, 2006
Heather Woodbury's Tale of 2Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks is a massive undertaking. Spread out over five hours and two parts, it attempts no less than to chart the full effect of the urban displacement that occurred in both New York and Los Angeles when the Dodgers switched cities back in 1957. There's a fascinating story here—several, in fact. But, even though there are many compelling moments in P.S. 122's current production, I think, ultimately, these stories might be better served by a different medium.
Tale of 2Cities covers a non-linear 60-year span of time from 1941 to 2001, and follows several overlapping storylines simultaneously. There's Manny, a modern teenage Angeleno with a growing reputation as a DJ and a serious drug habit. His grandmother, Gabriela, has been lying dead on the kitchen floor for three days, but Manny hasn't called the authorities yet: he's not done with the funeral mix he's making for her.
Over in New York, there's Mike, the elderly Irish cabbie whose backseat is a Feng Shui-inspired shrine to the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of his semi-regular passengers is Angela, a mentally handicapped Brooklyn girl, who makes mysterious visits to the hospital in the middle of the night.
Finally, there's Hannah, a New York Jewish woman whose aunt is in a coma that she may not come out of. Hannah spends a good part of her time emailing her brother, Josh, who's running an Internet startup in Korea, pleading with him to call or write or come home. Their aunt is the only living relative they have left, and there's no telling how much longer she'll be around.
Connecting all of these characters is Miriam, a crusading, liberal Jewish woman from New York. She moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s to be a schoolteacher in the Chavez Ravine barrio, which was eventually dispossessed by the construction of Dodger Stadium. One of her students back then was the young Gabriela, then a budding writer. Fast forward to 2001, when Miriam, now back in New York, is savagely beaten at Ebbets Field Apartments, the housing project built on the site of Ebbets Field, former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The beating has left Miriam in a coma, and her niece, Hannah, in the lurch. The prime suspects in the police investigation are a group of young black girls led by Angela.
As if all that weren't enough, there are several peripheral subplots that include Manny's ex-girlfriend Lavinia trying to get back into his good graces, the two cops investigating Miriam's attack, an eccentric artist building environmental art in Chavez Ravine almost two decades before the onset of Dodgers Stadium, the rabbi Hannah meets in a Brooklyn Starbucks, and Miriam's turbulent first marriage to a closeted gay man.
There's a lot of ground to cover here, and Woodbury gives it her all. Her best moments come when voicing everyone's heated feelings about the Dodgers. Mike describes seeing them for the first time after they moved at a road game in Philadelphia: "It was like after your wife divorced you and you saw her again." He then ranks Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley along with Hitler and Stalin as the great villains of the 20th century. Manny recalls that September 11th was a strange day for his grandmother long before 2001 because that was the day construction started on Dodger Stadium back in 1961. And, Hannah's coffee shop rabbi offers an amusing treatise on the relation between baseball diamonds, the Kaballah, and Feng Shui (he figured it out one night on his beer coaster during the seventh inning of a ballgame).
But, ultimately, the play's size, style, and ambition all get the better of Woodbury. The many disparate plot threads never satisfactorily cohere, and most of the questions brought up during the play never get answered. The play's theme is clear right at the outset—i.e., the Dodgers' relocation was bad for both New York and Los Angeles—so Woodbury doesn't require such epic treatment to get her point across. Tale of 2Cities could easily be trimmed to the size of a single full-length play, and be much more effective. As it stands now, the play's size and it's variety of styles—direct audience, memory play, slam poetry, multiple locales, fractured narrative—would be more conducive for a novel. (I kept wondering what Tale of 2Cities would become in the hands of someone like novelist Richard Price.)
There are some fine performances, though, as Tale of 2Cities gives everyone in the cast a chance to shine. Playing several roles each, Winsome Brown, Michael Ray Escamilla, Tracey A. Leigh, Leo Marks, Diane Rodriguez, Ed Vassallo, and Woodbury herself all give courageous and accomplished performances.
Theatre this ambitious should be commended and encouraged. Woodbury, a very talented writer, clearly has what it takes to create a satisfying work that can match its own lofty goals. Even if Tale of 2Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks doesn't quite succeed in that regard, it makes me eager to see what she comes up with next.