Pigeons, Knishes And Rockettes
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
August 16, 2010
Pigeons, Knishes and Rockettes takes place in New York City just over a month before Christmas Eve. Two twentysomething women, Eve and Georgia, meet in Bryant Park at the end of what seems like a very long day. Georgia is a tall, blonde (actual) Rockette with a sharp tongue and acerbic wit. Eve is a fast-talking (shorter) brunette whose mouth can't possibly move fast enough to get the amount of information she wants out of it. The content of their conversation won't surprise anyone who has spent time eavesdropping at a cafe or watching an episode of Sex in the City: they rehash their day, they complain about their jobs (or lack of them), they make fun of themselves and other people and, ultimately, they discuss the types of romantic relationships and people with whom they'd like to be involved.
Into this discussion walks a piano player name Peter. (I can't account for the presence of a piano in Bryant Park—I haven't seen one there before—but it's there in the play and Peter sits and plays it.) He provides background music and later sings a song. The women initially make fun of him but he's cute and he winks at them so they take notice. Later, in one of those coincidences that only happen in romantic comedies—or only happen in New York City—they run into him on the subway. Peter and Eve hit it off: Peter hates Christmas, Eve loves it. She has one month to convince him how great it is. The match is struck. The plot arrives. Mayhem ensues.
I must confess to rolling my eyes several times during the play's opening scenes. The characters felt familiar, the plot seemed thin, and the content seemed typical. Georgia is confident but can't get anyone to see beyond her looks. Eve constantly compares herself to her gorgeous friends—in addition to Georgia, there is their gay roommate Cherokee—and finds herself lacking, making it difficult for her to accept Peter's love. While I understand the sentiment, it seemed like a flimsy premise on which to base a play.
This changed about a third of the way through when, by sheer force of Diane Rissetto's charming script, I lowered my defenses enough to realize I was in the hands of 1) a writer who knows a little something about romantic comedies, and 2) a director generous enough to value relationships over comedy.
Pigeons, Knishes and Rockettes is a New York Play. Rissetto's dialogue—fast, smart and often disconnected—reflects the pace and rhythm of people living in crowded isolation yearning to connect with other human beings. The characters talk around rather than to each other and it is only at the height of tensions—romantic, anger, etc.—that characters are able to achieve a simple moment of understanding. In one playful scene for example, Eve accuses Peter, who confesses to being shy around women, of flirting with her and Georgia by way of his wink. Peter quickly responds with a hint of desperation by tagging the wink as a defense mechanism. "I wink," he says. "Because I don't know what else to do with my face."
This and other lines elicit laughs because they are funny but also as a result of their emotional honesty. Director Ilana Becker gives her actors the space to explore their characters' dimensions and her actors reward her with genuinely likable performances. As portrayed by Julia Arazi and Carl Howell, there's palpable chemistry between Peter and Eve. Both actors convey the affection they share as well as the scars they possess that keep them from realizing their love. And even though Georgia and Cherokee are written as supporting characters, Kristin Muri and Matthew Waterson bring a tremendous sense of play and dignity to their respective roles.
I would be shirking my duty as a reviewer by not telling you the play needs some work. One plot point involving a scarf made me want to stand up and scream, "Noooooooo!" It was seriously difficult to remain seated. There are also two or three meandering scenes that decelerate the overall pace and momentum. But the play's intelligence and humanity more than make up for it. By emphasizing our need to communicate, and by recognizing how difficult that can be, Rissetto and Becker provide a framework from which the characters can reveal themselves. And in doing so, we come to both care for them and see how much they care for each other.