By Sandi Durell
If you’re Aaron Feldman (Austin Trow), a likeable young guy who happens to have a well-to-do lawyer for a daddy, you feel you own the world – – able to have it all. No snobbery here, just a nice guy extremely socially adept, used to having what he wants and who makes things happen. Of course, getting into Brown University did require a recommendation letter for Feldman.
Jonathan Caren’s play at the Flea Theater (The Bats) (originally debuted at the Old Globe in 2012), is relevant, real and revealing as it insightfully gives pause to class and racial issues, secrets, friendships, trust, and illusions with a humorous bent. There are also 3 half naked guys with great six packs in towels parading around . . . but more on that later!
When Aaron meets his new roommate Iskinder Iudoku (whose father is Ethiopian, mother white American), played by James Fouhey, who also serves as narrator throughout the play, they become good friends each from very different backgrounds, although Izzy’s claim to fame, at that moment, is a peanut butter jar filled with marijuana. Aaron shares his world of privilege with Izzy who wants to be a lawyer and get into UCLA and a recommendation from Feldman’s dad surely helps when offered down the road. Feldman is a writer and wants to become a big time filmmaker (but he hasn’t written anything. . .yet).
Things take a wrong turn when Feldman is suddenly pulled over by the police for a minor offense, handcuffed and finds himself in a holding cell with big, brawly Dwight Barnes (Barron B. Bass) who’s not new to this scene, and has the gift of gab while the frightened Feldman cowers with the realities of what might happen to him on the inside if he doesn’t have a protector, Dwight giving him a blow by blow description. In exchange for Dwight’s protection (as they are moved to prison), Aaron makes all kinds of promises to help Dwight (having now confessed a secret to him), as he (Feldman) gets released.
Izzy eventually finishes law school and is working for a big-time law firm (having decided he wants to make money, rather than become a public defender) – – he’s now married, has a kid and different sensibilities, so he thinks. But, what goes around, comes around as he finds himself doing pro bono work and, of all people, assigned to defend Dwight now five years later! (Well, it is theater so anything is possible)
The locker room scene (where all 3 men are clad in towels) reveals the truth and feelings between them and their relationships, bonds and genuine inner character as they tussle and fight in this moment of reality. I won’t give away anymore at this point.
This is a gem of a cast that has been directed by the silky, smooth hand of director Kel Haney. And it’s amazing what you can do with 2 benches and a desk and some imagination (scenic design Caite Hevner Kemp) and some good costume design (Sydney Maresca). If I have one negative comment it’s to construct a stronger, more conclusive ending.
Everyone needs a recommendation for one thing or another, everyone gives a recommendation at one time or another . . . my recommendation – go see this play.
The Flea at 41 White Street, NYC (Tribeca) 212 226-0051 www.theflea.org thru September 22nd
* Photos: Hunter Canning