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A CurtainUp Review

It's almost like you've seen all the pain and hurt of the world and it just shows on your face. There's just, something in your eyes. That's where it all starts - the eyes. The deepest pain. ---Lil, to Keesha

Alfredo Narciso  &Quincy Tyler Bernstine in <i>'Nami</i>
Alfredo Narciso &Quincy Tyler Bernstine in 'Nami
The haunting sound of a child crying echoes through 'Nami, the intense, harrowing new play by Chad Beckim produced by Partial Comfort Productions. The unseen child is a victim of the December 2004 Tsunami -- hence this continually fascinating and rewarding play's title, which is also an acronym for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

The story focuses on two married couples, next-door neighbors in a squalid apartment building. Both pairs are already teetering on the edge of violence, madness and despair when the play begins. Keesha and Roachie are on the brink of poverty and at the mercy of their landlord as they struggle daily with Roachie's crack addiction as well as his screw-up tendencies. Harry and Lil don't have it much easier. Lil's mental instability is evident by her acting like a child and apparentlyincapable of leaving the apartment. Her relationship with Harry is more that of a parent and child than a husband and wife though the situation is ndlessly frustrating to both of them.

The drama heightens when the ruthless pimp/gangster landlord, Donovan, brings the mysterious four-year-old into Keisha and Roachie's apartment. The two couples are pushed even closer towards the edge when Lil and Keesha begin to suspect the fate in store for the child.

This is an unflinching story of heartbreak and menace with the audience uncomfortably riveted to watching this high stakes game of just who will go overboard. Playwright Beckim (also co-artistic director of Partial Comfort) is to be commended on creating a drama that is so smartly constructed and with well-rounded, damaged but also funny character. Beckim[s beautifully written script is well served by the cast and director John Gould Rubin.

The five actors are all standouts, beginning with Eva Kaminsky who seems to literally throw herself into the role of Lil as she explodes in tantrums, begs her husband for a puppy, and sobs in despair and terror when she discovers what is going on next door.

Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Keesha is as grown-up and world-weary as Kaminsky is childlike. Her deadpan reactions to both Roachie's irresponsibility and Lil's instability provide some of the first act's funniest moments as the revelation of her backstory and her determination to right what's wrong make for the most moving segments in the second act.

Alfredo Narciso captures Roachie's inherent weak-willed nature as well as a surprisingly poetic soul underneath. He's a man who perpetually disappoints his wife but nevertheless rambles on about the beauty of her laugh and the poignancy of the moon.

Marc Rosenthal as Lil's husband Harry initially seems an endlessly patient and heroic caretaker but as he too inches dangerously towards the breaking point, we see his capacity for fury unravel and explode. Tj e cast is rounded out by Michael Gladis as the heartless Donovan, whose early threats become appalling reality as the play wears on.

Gould Rubin's direction allows everything to tie together. He does so by seamlessly interweaving the scenes in the two apartments, often cleverly overlapping the end of one scene with the beginning of another, as when during a particularly intense scene between Lil and Donovan, Harry slowly starts to walk in. At first you think he's part of the current scene and begin to relax, knowing Lil is safe, but it then becomes apparent that what is going on with Lil and Donovan is going to play its course before Harry actually arrives. Even though Harry is only a few feet away in reality, this amps up the already tense situation and makes it even more harrowing.

While I wasn't entirely satisfied with the climax, which seemed a little too quick after such a gradual, tense buildup, Beckim's story, about the damage people can do to each other with the best of intentions is a very moving one. 'Nami isn't a a happy play, nor easy to watch. But it's one that keeps you transfixed and stay with you after it ends.

Playwright: Chad Beckim
Directed by John Gould Rubin
Cast: Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Keesha), Michael Gladis (Donovan), Eva Kiminsky (Lil), Alfredo Narciso (Roachie), Marc Rosenthal (Harry)
Set Design: Heather Wolensky
Costume Design: Lex Liang
Lighting Design: Jason Jeunnette
Sound Design: Zach Williamson

Running time: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes, includes one intermission
Kirk Theater, Theatre Row Studios, 410 W. 42nd Street at 9th Avenue
From September 6-30
Weds - Sat at 8 pm
Tickets: $15
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