by Alix Cohen
Noah Diamond describes himself as a recovering New York City tour guide, but the truth is he loves it. Even with now diversified endeavors, Diamond can periodically be found enthusiastically waxing poetic atop a double deck bus. After seeing this, I’d take the ride.
The raconteur starts his tale in 1609 Mannahatta- roughly translated as either Island of Hills or Island of Inebriation– when Henry Hudson sailed into what’s now New York harbor assuming he’d reached India (calling inhabitants Indians.) Hudson then continued up the river now named for him, still in search of a Northwest Passage to Asia. In 1625, New Amsterdam, the first colony not established by a religious group, was founded by fellow Dutchman Peter Minuit.
Minuit “purchased” the island for $25.00 in trinkets. “It’s believed the Lenape society didn’t understand the concept of private property ownership,” Diamond tells us. Doing a “bit” about the absurdity of the situation and the Native Americans’ possible ironic response, he quips, “For a few more of those beads, we’ll throw in the sun.”
That Diamond manages to cover four centuries of Manhattan addressing both social and structural changes without ever feeling rushed is a marvel. In the late 1990s, the struggling artist secured his tour guide license and pursued what became his vocation. “For most tour guides, it’s not an end unto itself, but a performance gig.”
Standing on a platform, Diamond intermittently dons his Big Apple Tours jacket, lifts a microphone and takes on a travel persona. A hierarchy is described, “Ticket sellers will say anything…” (The now defunct bus company rife with rundown vehicles ruled the roost until it hit a pedestrian in 2000.)
Famous artists, architects, and politicians are interwoven. There are apt Walt Whitman and William Cullen Bryant quotes. Wry comments punctuate. A large screen displays wonderfully chosen and collaged visuals accompanied by/coordinated with period music. Often we’re treated to that-was-then, this-is-now photos offering a real sense of time passing. What was once farmland grows populated and then turns into grids before our eyes.
Wars, fires (the city was once predominantly wood), architectural and social mores come and go. What was once uptown is now midtown. Competition to be the tallest building continues even today. Who remembers the previous Carnegie Hall, multiple Madison Square Gardens or Penn Station? Don’t get too accustomed to the later, both will soon be rebuilt. “What makes New York exhilarating also makes it heartbreaking.”
Only 10 of the 50 states have populations the size of New York City. The Times Building- that tower from which the New Year’s Eve ball drops- is empty, serving only as the most coveted advertising space in the city. When her husband became incapacitated, it was his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, who completed The Brooklyn Bridge. The Statue of Liberty bears the face of sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s mother and the body of his mistress. Its base was built by a crowd-fund…
The “tour” takes us from the Lower East Side to the development of Harlem. Immigrants are celebrated. New York now speaks 800 languages. If more recent days are given shorter shrift – there are up-t0-date photos, but less monologue about the present, we forgive. The bounty of illuminating, entertaining information more than satisfies. It’s clear Noah Diamond loves this city. I’d challenge anyone not to exit with similar affection.
By rights (after vetting content) this show should be performed at either The Museum of The City of New York for The New York Historical Society and then taped. It’s a wonderful way for natives and tourists alike to get to know and value our environs.
Director Amanda Sisk does an excellent job with pacing and staging.
Photos by Amanda Sisk
United Solo Festival presents
400 Years in Manhattan
Written and Performed by Noah Diamond
Directed by Amanda Sisk
Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street
REPEAT PERFORMANCE November 6 at 9:00pm
The festival continues until November 24, 2019
Festival listings and tickets http://unitedsolo.org/us/