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A CurtainUp Review
Jack Cummings III directs a cast of actors, some of whom play multiple or ensemble parts, in an ambitious show that attempts to reach almost operatic proportions in a staging that has both classical and innovative elements. The setting is Brooklyn and Manhattan. The time is spring 2002. But Des (Jenny Fellner), a New York City public school teacher, is still filled with the fear and anxiety engendered by the attack on the Twin Towers. She cannot go back to her old job, or even go far from the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her husband, AJ (Bryce Ryness), also a public school teacher. The furthest she gets is a nearby park, where she works.
AJ wants to be supportive and understanding, but he is frustrated by Des's inability to get her life back in order. He repeatedly urges her to sign a new contract and go back to school. He's not the only one.
Bobby (James F. Williams), who runs a local café with Jimmy (Ken Triwush), reminds Des, "Everybody's talking about getting back to normal." And two elderly birdwatchers Des meets in the park, Olive and Beryl (the delightful duo, Susan Lehman and (Kate Weiman respectively), warn Des that the school won't hold her spot forever, she'd better sign the contract. But Des has to conquer her own demons before she can rejoin society.
In the meantime, AJ finds himself attracted to Madeline (Blythe Gruda), the school librarian, who offers a tempting alternative to his troubled and distant wife. He also takes a special interest in one of his students, Kevin (the too cute and clever J. Bradley Bowers), a precocious middle-schooler who lost both parents on 9/11.
One other character in the play is Travis (Clayton Dean Smith), a homeless, psychotic Vietnam vet, whose role probably has something to do with redemption, but is never made sufficiently clear.
The real reason for Des's post-9/11 anxiety is only revealed toward the end of the play. And when this happens, the audience is totally unprepared, which mitigates the effectiveness of what might have been a very moving scene.
In fact it's on an emotional level that Crossing Brooklyn is least successful. Sandra Goldmark's austere set and Cumming's choreographed blocking, along with the chorus's commentary give the play a Brechtian distance that just doesn't work in this instance. Although Crossing Brooklyn is head and shoulders above the sentimental 9/11 claptrap we are sometimes subjected to, one wishes the playwright and director had found some way of engaging the audience on a more personal level and made the characters more likable and moving.
The symbolic crossing of Brooklyn Bridge at the end of the play is rendered with visual perfection by cables drawn down and across the stage. But the moment is marred by lengthy and repetitive song that is not saved by Fellner and Ryness's strong and beautiful voices.
Giering gives too many of the 24 musical numbers an excess of nervous energy and too few the kind of tenderness only melody can supply. Sometimes songs appear in scenes that would be better served by dialogue which goes deeper than "How can he leave me here like this? How can I leave her here like this? Do I stay? Do I go? Do I run? Does she know?" Crossing Brooklyn tries to remove sentimentality from 9/11 through an abstract, experimental treatment. It may be that it is just too early for such an attempt. Or it may be that Giering and Harrington need to find another way to tell their story.
Editor's Note: Below are links to reviews of previous Transport Group productions. For a young company, a remarkable majority of these have struck us as outstanding. Even the few that didn't hit all the bases, reflected the company's willingness to take chances.
Requiem For William
First Lady Suite
All the Way Home
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
©Copyright 2007, Elyse Sommer.
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