In New York City it can seem like the audience is an accessory to theater. Plays with big name stars charge a king’s ransom to sit in the back row of a giant theater, and you had better bring your binoculars if you want to see that movie actor strut and fret his hour upon the stage. Every restaurant in Manhattan has a cast of waiter/actors ready to slip you a postcard with info on how to see a burlesque or magic show, a comedy club, an art installation, a theater festival, or a musical act in any genre that tickles your fancy. Usually when you get there the art is so high concept you want to scrub your brain with Kardashian reruns just to get back to normal. Did they create that work of “art” for you, or did you just pay $15 to bear witness to their artistic genius?
A truly innovative theater company takes chances and goes the extra mile to entertain you. The Seeing Place Theater goes the extra mile by playing to the strengths of its members, from the actors Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican to the director Ariel Francoeur and the talented team who designed the sets and lights, in their repertory production of two short plays, The Lover by Harold Pinter and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley.
Each play is just over an hour, and it is possible to see them back to back with a thirty minute break between shows for the set change. In The Lover Sarah and Richard are a typical, middle class, mid-twentieth century, suburban London couple in the middle of a predictable problem: they both have a lover. Richard is jealous but Sarah likes their arrangement. It seems terribly sensible and pragmatic to her to keep those two spheres of their lives separate — until both worlds collide with hilarious and edgy force.
In Danny and the Deep Blue Sea Danny and Roberta meet in a bar in the Bronx. Danny is a drunk and a brawler. Roberta, thirty-one years-old, has been treading water since she got pregnant and married at eighteen. She lives like a teenager in a room with a separate entrance above her parents’ house, so she can come and go as she pleases, while her parents raise her son. Danny and Roberta are lost souls, in perpetual limbo between the debts of the past and the impossible hope that they will discover a love that will support them in their struggle through an otherwise hopeless life.
The sets (it’s impressive that the set change only takes thirty minutes) are evocative and set the right tone. The direction keeps the action lively, funny in the right places, and dramatic in the right places. But The Seeing Place Theater Company’s triumph in putting on two plays in repertory like this is showing off the skill of its actors. In The Lover the act of being an actor is the central conceit of the play, and Brandon Walker kills it, by turns being an uptight, sexually repressed, bourgeoise Brit and a brooding, scuff-knuckled, East End seducer. In Danny and the Deep Blue Sea Erin Cronican takes a star turn as a woman whose love might be able to save Danny, but isn’t enough to save herself. Her performance of Roberta was the most genuine and touching performance I have seen this year.
If you want to be entertained, check out The Seeing Place Theater’s double bill from now through August 12.
The Lover / Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
314 West 54th St. 4th floor
Wed-Sat at 7pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm