“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about THE PRIDE OF PARNELL STREET, IN THE DAYLIGHT, MAHIDA’S EXTRA KEY TO HEAVEN and GOING TO THE RIVER, SERIES B.

I am not usually a fan of plays comprised solely of narration but I have to say, Sebastian Barry’s The Pride of Parnell Street, a series of interlocking monologues in which the characters are a stoic, poor Irish woman and her estranged husband, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Janet struggled to make ends meet while her husband Joe supported the family as a pety criminal. I use the past tense, here, because the playwright does. Both were almost desperately in love with each other; until, that is, Joe got drunk during the celebration at a local pub of the championship of the local football team and beat Janet up. When we meet him, he is in a bad way, dying in hospital. He still loves her, and she him, but their life together is over, both because of his beating of her and because of his impending death. Talk about a tragic love story! It breaks your heart.

Mary Murray and Aidan Kelly transcend mere “moving” in their performances. The Pride of Parnell Street runs until 4 October and is not to be missed.

Tony Glazer’s In the Daylight, at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, is a dysfunctional family whodunit/thriller. Dear old Dad has died under mysterious circumstances (was he murdered?) and his prodigal son, a famous novelist, has been asked to come home to help his mother and sister decide what to do about the ashes. It’s a dark and stormy night (but of course), and the first act consists largely of the three members of the family screaming at each other, while the ghost of dad wanders around aimlessly, unseen by his family. The acrimony is interrupted by the arrival of a ditzy fan of the novelist, who sat next to him on his plane flight and who is returning his cell phone, which he left behind. Of course, she is not what she seems, nor is anybody.

This play might have worked if director John Gould Rubin had gone for more subtlety, less stridency, with his actors. As it is, the play gets more and more far-fetched, finally devolving into the ridiculous.

You could skip this one.

You could also stand to skip Russell Davis’ Mahida’s Extra Key to Heaven, an Epic Theatre Ensemble production at Signature’s Peter Norton Space, wherein the playwright has created (or, rather, tried to create) an allegory about our nation’s misadventure in Iraq. It’s about a confused young man living at home with his rather dotty, difficult mother, who meets a mysterious young woman waiting late at night by the ocean for a ferry to take her back to the mainland. Turns out, she is a student from Iraq, and her brother has recently arrived to force her to return to her country. Hints are dropped that he may be a terrorist. He is certainly an Islamic fundamentalist, anyway. The young man fears for her safety and offers her a place to stay for the night with him and his mom. Of course, who should show up the next day but the brother, demanding his sister.

Unlike In the Daylight, which had more twists and turns than a politician running for re-election, Davis’ play holds no surprises. Mostly, it’s just talk talk talk, redeemed by the excellent acting all around – particularly, that of Roxanna Hope as the damsel in distress and Michele Pawk as the cranky mother.

Finally, I caught Series B of The River Crosses Rivers, a bill of ten-minute plays by non-white female playwrights at Ensemble Studio Theatre. The first half of this bill disappointed me, but things perked up after the interval with the arrival of PJ Gibson’s Jesse. This is, like The Pride or Parnell Street, a series of interlocking monologues in which the characters are a husband and wife. Gareth and Tauna, successful professionals, are deeply in love, and gush endlessly about it. Fortunately, Gibson has enough wit to make these lovers standable – and then, in the end, veers towards a point of no return. Christopher Burris and Maya Lynne Robinson are charming in this play.

My other fave was Cori Thomas’ moving His Daddy, about two men struggling to deal with the brutal murder of the son they adopted. Lindsay Smiling and Matthew Montelongo are heartbreaking in this gem.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com. 212-279-4200.
IN THE DAYLIGHT. McGinn/Cazale Theatre. 2162 Broadway.
TICKETS: 212-579-0258.
MAHIDA’S EXTRA KEY TO HEAVEN. Peter Norton Space. 555 W. 42nd
St. TICKETS: 866-811-4111.
THE RIVER CROSSES RIVERS, SERIES B. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549
W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: 866-811-4111.

“Who is this guy?”

For over thirty years Lawrence Harbison was in charge of new play acquisition for Samuel French, Inc., during which time his work on behalf of playwrights resulted in the first publication of such subsequent luminaries as Jane Martin, Don Nigro, Tina Howe, Theresa Rebeck, José Rivera, William Mastrosimone, Charles Fuller, and Ken Ludwig, among many others; and the acquisition of musicals such as Smoke of the Mountain, A…My Name Is Alice, Little Shop of Horrors and Three Guys Naked from the Waist Down. He is a now a free-lance editor, primarily for Smith and Kraus, Inc., for whom he edits annual anthologies of best plays by new playwrights and women playwrights, best ten-minute plays and best monologues and scenes for men and for women. For many years he wrote a weekly column on his adventures in the theater for two Manhattan Newspapers, the Chelsea Clinton News and The Westsider. His new column, “On the Aisle with Larry,” is a weekly feature at www.smithandkraus.com.

He works with individual playwrights to help them develop their plays (see his website, www.playfixer.com). He has also served as literary manager or literary consultant for several theatres, such as Urban Stages and American Jewish Theatre. He is a member of both the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk. He has served many times over the years as a judge and commentator for various national play contests and lectures regularly at colleges and universities. He holds a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.A. from the University of Michigan.

He is currently working on a book, Masters of the Contemporary American Drama.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

—– George F. Will