Abram Hill’s On Striver’s Row is a witty and topical satire about class in the neighborhoods of Harlem in 1945. Metropolitan Playhouse’s production is charming and entertaining, but is also just too large a play for the space it is staged in.
The Van Strivens are preparing for their daughter’s debutante party. Cobina (Al-nisa Petty) doesn’t really see the need for her introduction to society, but Mrs. Van Striven (Kim Yancey-Moore) and Mrs. Pace (Marie Louise Guinier), her grandmother, have been planning it, and Mr. Van Striven (Charles Anthony Burks) has been paying for it – so much so that he is advertising rooms for rent, and is working to sell a plot of land to a recent lottery winner and low class cook, Ruby Jackson (Linda Kuriloff). Ruby asks for an introduction to society, and Mrs. Van Stiven is appalled while her rival socialite and gossip rag editor, Tillie Petunia (Lauren Marissa Smith), is thrilled at the chance to watch Mrs. Van Striven fall from the inner circle. When the party starts the well timed entrances and exits begin, snobbery prances from mouth to mouth in conversation, and the exhibition of dancing, hi-jinx and low blows inches the party toward disaster.
The action takes place in the parlor of the Van Striven’s home, and the parlor (set design by Collin Trevor Eastwood) is equipped with the absolute bare essentials on the limited stage. Considering the space, Timothy Johnson has staged 16 actors with varying degrees of success. The more intimate moments (like those between the young lovers) play very well, but scenes with more people feel sometimes feel unnatural. In the dancing moments, Johnson’s choreography is perfectly simple and entertaining, SJ Hannah (playing Joe Smothers) and Madelynn Poulson (playing Beulah) really sell those moves.
In costumes (by Sidney Fortner) that do not quite feel complete, the actors are masters of their characters. Occasionally, the quickness that is required for this satire is lacking, and therefore some of the wit is lost as well. Some moments were over played while others were slowly stretched out. Perhaps the actors are still falling into the rhythm of the show with an audience. When they find it, the piece will be even more entertaining.
On Striver’s Row: Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 East 4th St (between Avenues A and B). Closes June 18th.