NY Theater Reviews By Eric J. Grimm
Two plays by Project Rushmore are currently running in repertory at the beautiful Arclight Theatre on the Upper West Side. Project Rushmore’s mission is to present plays committed to exploring the American spirit. I believe in their mission, though I wish they had chosen better plays for their second summer season. World of Sinatras, a drama about suburban discord in the 1960s, and Exquisite Potential, a comedy about a child who may or may not be the messiah, are both lightweight pieces of theater with a privileged white male perspective and nothing particularly interesting to say about what it is to be American.
Sean O’Connor’s World of Sinatras is a bland coming of age story that presents an unfair challenge to its actors by unconvincingly covering almost fifty years over the course of the two-act play. Older, muscled Jeff Rubino struggles admirably to play Sam Murdoch from ages 4-16 for the majority of the show. Having older actors play much younger roles is always extremely distracting in a traditional dramatic setting and it does not work here. Co-stars Dennis Ostermaier, as Sam’s abusive and alcoholic father Jack, and Danielle Delgado as Sam’s artistic, French mother Marie, have an easier time aging throughout the course of the play, though their acrimonious exchanges are so pretentiously written that they often come off as humorous instead of heartbreaking.
Director Sydney Grossberg Ronga, who also directed Exquisite Potential, makes some missteps in interpreting the script for the stage. Brutal fights between Jack and Sam shake the set and distract from the horror of the abuse. Popular music serves to mark transitions and echo the characters actions and emotions to varying degrees of success. French Marie’s oft-repeated theme is “La Vie En Rose,” a painfully obvious choice that contributes to the tired and sappy nature of the script.
Stephen Kaplan’s Exquisite Potential is the more palatable of the two works, though its stale first act and conclusion undercut a solid chunk of the play that flirts with an intriguing absurdism. The first act sees new parent Alan (Vince Gatton) attempting to convince wife Laura (Rachel Evans) and rabbi Garry (Matt Biagini) that his son, David, is the messiah. In the second act, set thirty years later, Gatton and Evans play grown up David and his disgruntled sister Beth who, along with rabbi Garry (Bob Ader) and his grown up son, also named David (Biagini), clumsily consider the former David’s altruistic actions to determine whether or not he is the messiah. The beginning of act two is far more amusing than the rest of the show, owing to the characters’ cynicism and stubbornness. Unfortunately, Kaplan’s script unravels and the end has a gooey “true-meaning-of-Messiah” ending complete with an unnecessary appearance by an adorable three-year-old. Despite the lacking material, Vince Gatton shines in the production, successfully playing both father and son with care and ease.
Looking ahead, Project Rushmore intends to mount productions of classic works and stage them in an American context. This seems like a better way to get the company’s message across. It also presents an opportunity to stage older plays with a variety of characters of different races and socio-economic backgrounds in order to provide a more complex take on the American spirit. These two uninspired works fail to ask or answer significant questions about American life and make Project Rushmore’s focus appear to be very narrow.
World of Sinatras and Exquisite Potential are playing at Arclight Theatre (152 W. 71st St.) from July 16-August 3. Tickets are available at http://www.projectrushmorenyc.org.