The one act plays that make up The East Village Chronicles allow the audience to leap several decades in the space of evening, touring the various incarnations of one of New York’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The banter and chemistry between characters makes up for the lack of a larger theme.
Reviewed by Ilana Novick
All the plays of The East Village Chronicles share is a neighborhood—the Lower East Side—and some quick and loosely defined characters, but the warmth and humor displayed by the actors form a live biography of a neighborhood. There’s no overarching message or theme, just interactions between conflicting personalities. It’s the equivalent of a feel-good romantic comedy movie, all snappy banter and sympathetic characters.
The East Village Chronicles invites us to be time-traveling voyeurs, peering behind the closed doors of places like McGuirk’s Suicide Hall, a bar, as imagined by Dale Evans, where people go to have one last drink before the end. McGuirk (Scott Glascock), commands the stage from the opening seconds, stomping across the stage like he’s trying to kill it, threatening the audience with bodily harm if any “newfangled communication” devices dare to make a sound. Point made, he turns his wrath on the sawdust-covered floors and tables, their listless patrons, and a young busboy named Irving Berlin (Paul Hufker), a whining, nerdy shell of the songwriter he would become. Hufker makes a terrific nervous teenager, eternally cringing, as if constantly bracing his face from attack, even when McGuirk isn’t threatening him. He may have a great future ahead of him, but right now he’s a nervous but tenacious teenager, making up off-key songs on the spot (versions of his future hits), which while surprising for a man who wrote hits like “White Christmas,” fit his teenage self. The plot, which involves a reporter and a man threatening to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, is bad, but the chemistry (appropriate for a bar) is great.
Like its predecessor, Tracking Gertrude Treadwell is more engaging for the dynamic between the leads than it is for plot, or even for the connection to the neighborhood. The cat-and-mouse game between Burt McDermott (Chris Harcum) a ghost hunter, and the curator, is fascinating. Her narrowed eyes are the picture of skepticism, and she stands stiffly in a skirt , shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders, as she snidely comments on his work, angry that people are only interested in her museum for the ghost rumored to dwell within. She’s so committed to history that she sees ghost tours as an unseemly gimmick. When her comments aren’t enough to break his supernatural mission, the curator makes McDermott believe that he will be the victim of the supposed ghost, using McDermott’s passion against him. Heitman’s steely gaze, and slow deliberate movements had much of the audience convinced that maybe she could have been a ghost, and it’s fun to see her use them to go head-to-head with a supposed “expert.” This one, while fun, also seems to have less of a connection to the East Village as a neighborhood, being that it takes place entirely inside, with little reference to the streets outside.
The last play in the series is most successful at combining both engaging personalities and a true connection to the East Village. All Good Cretins Go To Heaven, by Kathleen Warnock, follows a CBGB regular named Lulu (Amy Fulgham) as she bemoans the way her former stomping grounds—once home to junkies and punks—have been converted to condos and Whole Foods. It’s certainly not the “New York Fucking City” that she remembers. Enter Joey Ramone (Will Cefalo), back from the dead to reminisce and offer encouragement. The arguments she makes are not new—of course the area has changed, of course the artists are gone, and yes, Whole Foods has replaced the corner bodega. But giving this frustration a name and a face as earnest as Fulgham’s: that saves this play from one-note nostalgia. Cefalo does a note-perfect Joey Ramone impression, long black hair in his sunglass-covered eyes, speaking like a teenager with one word answers, and careless shrugs of the shoulder. He’s an unlikely candidate for the voice of reason, but his reassurances that the music isn’t dead seem more realistic than all of Lulu’s whining. It took the voice of a dead singer to reassure at least one fan that the spirit of the place isn’t dead. It’s a sweet ending. There may not be much to think about, but it’s still fun.
East Village Chronicles, Evening B is at the Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 East 4th Street. from June 5-22. Performances are Fridays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Call 212-995-5302 for tickets, or visit metropolitanplayhouse.org for more information.
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