“I can change your life.”
Anthony Giardina’s play, The City of Conversation, had a lot to say. His new play, Dan Cody’s Yacht at Manhattan Theatre Club, is following a trend that is beginning to seem like a new religion. Playwrights these days are all dealing with the trials of getting their children into higher education and the horrific guilt it is to be a white American. Admissionsand Transfers follow this same train of thought.
We meet Cara (Kristen Bush), a high school English teacher in an affluent Boston suburb, and Kevin (Rick Holmes), the father of one of her students. Kevin believes he can buy a better grade for his son’s failing one on a term paper. Cara, who lives on the other side of the tracks, has a talented daughter attending a school that lacks the tools to get her what she needs. Kevin is a successful financial manager and offers to take over Cara’s investments and make her financially comfortable. Cara is suspicious that his intentions aren’t strictly aboveboard. When he says he is not hitting on her because he’s gay, she agrees. But Kevin has another ulterior motive that involves the merging of these two school districts. You see, Cara has been leading the opposition. As Cara’s financial freedom starts to rise, she hopes that her daughter, Angela (Casey Whyland), will be able to attend the school in which she teaches, no matter what.
Kevin’s son, Conor (John Kroft), is not as driven as Angela, but the two become friends. He tells Angela, “I think maybe your mom is my dad’s Haiti.” Angela does not want to leave her school, nor moving. She dreams of attending Vassar, where she can pursue her love of poetry, but for Angela, dreams are just that. Kevin wants to make her dream a reality and suggests she lay off the Frappuccinos. Angela is overweight, and Kevin knows she will be judged by that.
Cara’s best friend (Roxanna Hope Radja) becomes annoyed when it is Cara, not her, that is moving on. It seems the have-nots don’t want to mix with the privileged either. There are also the people in Kevin’s investment group (Jordan Lage, Meredith Forlenza, Laura Kai Chen) who think sushi from Whole Foods is slumming it.
Kevin wanting to help makes zero sense unless it is to assuage his guilt. The plot line of Cara’s investments losing and her shock at that, as well as Kevin being gay, just don’t feel real, more like caricatures of real human beings.
The actors do well, are charismatic, and as likable as can be. Doug Hughes directs this with aplomb. John Lee Beaty’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s costumes keep this slick and well oiled.
This play is inspired by a passage from The Great Gatsby, where Gatsby, as a young man, takes a rowboat out to a yacht owned by the copper mogul, Dan Cody, to warn him of an approaching storm. The grateful industrialist takes him under his wing as an assistant, helping Gatsby acquire an appreciation for the good life. What is ironic about this is to aspire for the good life just seems wrong these days in most people’s eyes.
Dan Cody’s Yacht: New York City Center Stage I, 131 West 55th St. until July 1st.