By Adam Cohen . . . 

While we all strive to obtain and surpass our aspirations, few of us are afforded the opportunity . . . even if it’s a terrible goal. Success, failure. Living or dying. Self-preservation. These are the many issues tackled by playwright Bill McGee in this new one-act play, Reasons, tautly directed by Angie Kristic, that is now playing through May 22 at the American Theater of Actors.

This is a very theatrical, dramatic one-act. There’s a theatrical trope—if you see a weapon on stage or on screen, you know it will be used in some form later on. And director Addison Endicott shows off that gleaming knife in the opening moment. 

The setting is an outer borough of New York, where Richben Collins (Leo Koorhan) holds court. Reasons opens with Richben preparing to cut his wrists. This highly literate, intelligent man has previously contemplated and attempted to jump off bridges, offing himself. He peppers his conversation with tons of literary allusions to authors like George Eliot and others who utilized pen names. 

Richben is narcissism personified. He’s an immature, cynical, wise, lone wolf. He works for his father’s storage company driving a forklift. This brings him joy, unlike the promise of taking over the business. Perhaps performance anxiety lies among his many issues. As performed by Koorhan, Richben is complex, intelligent, and—in this capable actor’s hands—equal parts manic and balanced. It’s a poised performance enhanced by Koorhan’s talent for multiple voices. 

He’s interrupted by a scheduled visit from his “mind health counselor” Ava (Maymi). This is a house call where Ava is subjected to Richen’s thoughts like “fear is too much . . . people feel uneasy and threatened . . .  and allow themselves to be dominated.” The question of whether he intends to kill himself or just wants attention is part of the nature of their discourse. He clearly feels like a failure, but committing suicide won’t bring him stature and he realizes this. 

Maymi gives a fine performance. She’s equally vulnerable and pensive. Her counselor is sympathetic and struggling with a case that didn’t go well. She shares this story with Richben—as a way to gain his trust. And it’s easy for the audience to think she’s talking of herself and her own aspirations to be a poet. 

Their session is interrupted by a mysterious stranger Cal (Jake McMichael). Richben and Ava choose to do a session outside a hospital or a formal office. She foolishly—to gain his trust—meets him in the apartment where Richben is squatting. Cal has followed Ava to her appointment. And he arrives with muddied intentions. Dexterously performed by McMichael—his monologue is a triumph of the cocktail of life: survival, fear, love, depression, searching for meaning. 

McGee delivers a trio of souls grappling with loss whose lives intersect through work and fate. Richben talks of there being two types of people in the world: those who react and those who make. Clearly, he’s a maker who uses art to react. The play is the perfect aperitif for life under COVID. These three actors are gifted with searing text and lots to emote about how life has rewards in surprising ways. 

Reasons. Through May 22 at the American Theater of Actors Sargent Theatre (314 West 54th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues – 4th Floor).