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Off Broadway

Aisle Say On The Square: Power People

Aisle Say On The Square: Power People
Molly Griggs, Janie Dee

Molly Griggs, Janie Dee

Time was, she had her [stuff] together, a prize-winning advertising executive, who knew her products, knew her market of women transitioning in and through middle age, and more than that, respected them. In a business often driven by cynicism, she cared.

Molly Griggs, Janie Dee

Molly Griggs, Jennifer Ikeda, Janie Dee

Donald Sage Mackay, Janie Dee

Donald Sage Mackay, Janie Dee,

Things, however, are very different now for Linda (Janie Dee) in the eponymous play by UK dramatist Penelope Skinner, currently at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The youngies are encroaching upon her territory, in particular the privileged Amy (Molly Griggs) who is tearing down all the craft-sensitivity Linda built up, in league, naturally, with a tone-deaf, chauvinistic CEO (John C. Vennema). Ironically, as Linda gears up to battle women’s-issue rights at work, they’re showing up at home too. Her younger daughter Bridget is obsessing over which classic man’s role she can play for her college audition, to better demonstrate the versatility that comes with strength; older daughter Amy (Jennifer Ikeda) is unsocial and seems unambitious in the wake of an event we’ll learn of later, dressing only and ever in a neutering penguin-design onesie; and husband Neil (Donald Sage Mackay), safe and supportive, is also passive and unengaged…which will have its own impact on the self-image issue.

John C. Vennema, Janie Dee

John C. Vennema, Janie Dee

Penelope Skinner’s play takes a look at how things have changed for women, how they’ve stayed the same in the guise of change, and how all that affects matters between and among women, who, at least here, are as capable of wittingly and unwittingly compromising themselves as male chauvinism and myopia. It’s not a pretty bit of social commentary, but it’s delivered with wit, edge, irony and a fair amount of compassion.
Janie Dee

Janie Dee

Though the play is an import, and its star, Janie Dee, British (making her first return to the US and MTC since 2000, making a splash as quite a different kind of female in Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential), , Ms. Dee is new to the play and the sleekly effective production, helmed by MTC AD Lynne Meadow, is new. And you may find it has new things to say; or anyway puts them in new relief.

Danielle Leneé

Danielle Leneé,

As bracing an experience in its highly contrasting way is White Guy on the Bus, by Philadelpia playwright Bruce Graham; and I identify him as such because he’s devoted to stories set, and about people, in the city. The 2016 play seems to have caught fire in theatres around the country—from a quick Google, the production now at 59E59 would seem to be its fourth major staging in 18 months—and with good reason; it has some compelling things to say about class, poor vs rich, race discrimination and race perception.

Robert Cuccioli, Danielle Leneé

Robert Cuccioli, Danielle Leneé

And there’s not much at all I can tell you about it (or that anyone else should; avoid spoilers at all costs), because in creating a narrative that skips around in time, Graham affects a kind of narrative slight-of-hand wherein only a startling revelation late in the first act “cracks the code” of chronology and changes your perception about what you were watching. Which is probably endemic to the themes being explored by the play. For this is not, if you’ll forgive a too-sweeping generalization, the “usual” drama about racism in which lines are cleanly drawn between factions, or at least between philosophies. In this play, good and bad are mutable abstractions, blurred gray lines are everywhere, and ethics cross ethnic lines.

White Guy on a Bus
What I can tell you is that our main character, Ray (Robert Cuccioli), is a disaffected Wall Street power player, angry about the younger generation in his industry who won’t play by the rules; bored with his life, he’d like nothing more than to move out of his big Philly house. He’s still in love with his wife Roz (Susan McKey), a dedicated inner city school teacher, but worried for safety her too. He’s concerned about his unofficially adopted son Christopher (Jonathan Silver) as well, having invited him into the finance business to make a good living; but Christopher, following Roz’s footsteps, wants to be a teacher, gearing for his dissertation whose objective is nailing his tenure. Which he will need, because his young wife Molly (Jessica Bedford) is pregnant.
White Guy on a Bus, Robert Cuccioli

Susan McKey, Robert Cuccioli

What this has to do with assisted-living worker and nurse-in-training Shatique (Danielle Leneé, the only veteran of a prior production), and the bus ride she takes every Saturday to visit her brother in prison is not to be revealed here. But Ray is on that bus every Saturday, unthreatening and interested, getting to know her…

The play doesn’t purport to be realistic (in a theatrical sense), but Graham—whose strength at plotting serves him especially well here—seems to have merged the genres of social drama and Shavian dialectic such that the heightened universe makes the intersection of the two vastly different universes credible. Director Bud Martin has been especially sensitive in casting such that the voice of each perspective rings with the iconic soul of the argument; and the casting of Cuccioli is especially effective, because having been, in younger years, a musical theatre matinee idol, he brings a sexual energy to Ray that adds to the first arc of suspense right until the big reveal. And the chances are that you’ll never see it coming; nor guess where it’s going after (though in retrospect, the play’s structure is impeccably built). And the icing on the cake is that the aftermath of seeing the play is a fair bet for sparking spirited debate.
I have to say, too, that despite being a classy affair, White Guy on the Bus falls into another category of my own naming. It’s the kind of thing I call a “paperback play,” because if it were a novel, it would be a real page turner; it has that kind of verve. Based on how quickly it has been taken up by one production company after another, I guess that would make it a bestseller too…

Off Broadway

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

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