by: Susan Hasho
Hopeful New York City parents who wish to get their three-year-old child into a private preschool program are well documented, if not a cliché at this point. The play Cut Throat, by JB Reich, starts out as a typical tale and evolves into a more unusual adventure.
Two parents, Amy (Sarah Sirota) and Ben (Eric Bryant) are Upper-West-Side working professionals who begin this play attending an open house at the Kleinhoffer school run by a pretentious Germanic-type lady, Gloria Kleinhoffer (Susan Cella). Ms. Kleinhoffer offers her spiel and then in freeze frame, the couple bickers over conflicting opinions about how important or unimportant getting into the right school is—at three years old. Thus, the stage is set, the two opponents clearly delineated—wife: really eager; husband: laid back, non-committal. They are driven to therapy by the magnitude of this crisis in their relationship and, of course, each of their parents has an opinion. Amy’s mother is a problem for Amy because, “when have you ever thought about what someone else needs?” Ben’s father Murray has suggestions, unhelpful. Ben’s problem is that his father is never “honest.”
They find out the child has to be tested, i.e. “ERBs.” Do they need a tutor? They need to write an essay about their boy. How honest should it be? There has to be a play date, and then they have to be interviewed, etc., etc.
Brechtian-like titles are projected on a screen before each scene, but the action is scene to scene, back and forth between characters, and pretty conventional and predictable; until we meet the rich well-connected woman who is going to make their entry into private school a breeze—Binky. She says, “That’s so sweet. So sweet. Hardly make it to the West Side anymore. So charming. So bustling. So New York. It’s dirty and crowded and little white and colored children all mixed up together and everywhere Jews. Jews, Jews, Jews. Then in the middle of it all there’s this horrible wretch of a woman in rags sitting on the curb in her own filth with a sign out quoting scripture. So enthralling, the West Side.” Susan Cella as Binky pulls this play into broader farcical territory. Drinking, eating and utterly outsize, Ms. Cella brings a fully realized portrait to the play that is totally delicious. Turns out, Binky is fund raising for a “wonderful charity”— little water bowls for pets, placed all over the city. Ben and Amy write a check. Grateful Binky says she hates the school, it’s too fascist and she has “burned every possible bridge.” She leaves Ben and Amy dumbfounded and bereft of a shoo-in to the school.
The writing in this play is good, revealing deeper and deeper issues as it moves forward. The playwright, JB Reich, is insightful and funny but what really puts this production over the top is the actors and the direction by Mark Waldrop. Only the actors playing Amy and Ben are playing one role (charming and beautifully realized), the others are representing several people—fully and brilliantly. Susan Cella, as mentioned before, is Binky but she’s also (among other small characters she inhabits) Amy’s mother Arlene, and her characterization of Arlene, is passionate, complicated and true. Allen Lewis Rickman is Ben’s father and the father is deep-down old-time New Yorker irascible, funny and dear; but he also plays Ben’s good friend Marty—profane and a tired party guy. Melissa Teitel is Thea, Amy’s childless, artist sister and also Tammy a militant un-working mother, “Look, I know what it’s like to put on a suit and eat lunch at my desk and order around a bunch of half-wits and fly off to somewhere important where something of consequence seems to happen….or doesn’t. And I thank my mother and Betty Friedan and Joan of Fucking Arc. I thank all of them for a chance to have a seat at the table. But I don’t need it. I choose to raise my children.” Adam LeBow is playing Henry, Ben’s gay brother, and Amy and Ben’s son Charlie in a decisive monologue toward the end of the play.
Cut Throat just knocks the socks off the parental pre-school admission game with humor and guts and thoroughly unpacks a cliché for what it is—painfully true.
Photos: Kim T. Sharp
Abingdon Theatre Company 312 West 36th Street, 6th Floor New York, NY 10018 thru Oct. 25th
For tickets: 866-811-4111. For more information, visit www.abingdontheatre.org