According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fringe/Pawnshop Accordions

When the buses depart, Port Authority comes alive with its community of the night.

Photo/Ellis Gaskell

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

In Jonathan Wallace’s Pawnshop Accordions, an unlikely group of friends sit in the folding chairs of a sparse, dark alley outside the Port Authority bus terminal. They’ve formed their own city within a city, a miniature exercise in anarchy, and though its inhabitants talk about one day making it big, getting better jobs, and moving up in society, they never leave the confines of the station, which slows down the pacing and deprives the play of a chance to develop a larger central conflict in its plot.

Named after the food that composes his livelihood, Egg Sandwich (Shpend Xani), an Albanian immigrant who may have been a soldier, fires a makeshift grill and makes a living selling sandwiches to people like Godly Man (Brian D. Coates), the community’s resident schizophrenic, and Roche (Tim Cain), an EMT burned out from years of near-rescues and near-misses who is now concerned that his wife, the bright spot in his life, will be deported.

The set is limited to a circle of folding chairs and Egg Sandwich’s cart. With such a spare set, the characters must animate the space. Zaida (Gina Samradge) in particular, a mute (by choice) accordion player, rises to the challenge. Cradling her accordion as if it’s a beloved but unruly baby, ready to kick and scream at any time, but in need of protection, it’s fascinating to wonder how she ended up there. Xani and Cain never get beyond their easy rapport —Roche getting teased for seemingly never taking the calls from his dispatcher, Egg Sandwich for possibly having been a soldier back in Albania—and their dialogue reveals less than Zaida’s stony silence. The direction, which keeps the characters stuck in their chairs or just outside the perimeter of Egg Sandwich’s cart, only contributes to the static plot.

While the characters have their own personal stakes—maybe something will happen to change the course of their lives, maybe Roche’s wife will get deported, maybe we’ll find out why Zaida doesn’t talk—there is no one question, problem, journey, or larger theme that binds the characters together enough to move the play along, aside from the novelty of a bus station community. The work seems geared more publication in a magazine as a nonfiction slice of life, given how it explores how people form their own communities. It lacks a central conflict however, to make it a compelling play.

The Theater at 56 Bleecker Street. Performances are August 9-16th. Tickets available at

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