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Beate Hein Bennett

A Consequential Evening
by Richard Willett

August 24 to September 10
Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond Street, New York, NY 10012
Presented by New Directions Theater
Thurs., Fri., Mon. @ 8 pm, Sats. @2 pm and 8 pm, Sun @ 4 pm
Tickets $25 available at Eventbrite.com
The play is performed without intermission.
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett Aug. 28, 2023

Jessie Barnes, Jr. and Vincent Rame

The playwright Richard Willett calls his play “an elegy for the dream of New York City and America, that we came close to losing and that we should never forget, even in the face of almost incomprehensible hatred and fear.” However, as New Yorkers, who could forget that next day 9-11-2001, a sunny morning when the lives of thousands of people was snuffed out in an instant and for thousands more their world disappeared behind smoke and a dark cloud of yellowish dust over the violated collapsed World Trade Center Towers. A strange silence descended on our noisy city—its life breath had been stopped.

”9/10” revolves around eight characters who find themselves in different spaces high up in the WTC on the eve of the horror but, of course, totally unaware of what fate may befall some of them the next morning. Each character is paired with a sharply contrasted character in terms of personality and ethnic origin—a true New York City mix. The first two characters are Walter, a night security guard, played by Jessie Barnes, Jr. who portrays him as a mature no-nonsense kind of a man. He entertains himself quietly with his walkman turned to the Broadway musicals of the 50s and 60s when he was taken as a child to Broadway shows by his mother who wanted to show him a different world. His “side-kick” Roberto is played by Vincent Rame as a hyper young Dominican who works as an Otis elevator technician on the night shift. He entertains himself (and irritates Walter) playing Ricky Martin full blast on his boom box, lip-synching and gyrating wildly to the music. He also thinks he hears a ghostly voice in the elevator shaft pleading for help. Is he hallucinating or is it a throwback to the first WTC explosion in 1993?

The second pair is pure Brooklyn born and bred—they are long-time childhood friends or would-be lovers, who are attending a friend’s wedding in the WTC restaurant on top of the tower. They have escaped for a bit of time to themselves in a stairwell. He is Colin, a young NYC Firefighter who has not yet been involved in a “burn”—he seems to be in training. He is charming, witty, and romantic. His friend is Allison, a young independent minded woman who is fixated on all major catastrophes and accidents of the 20th century, especially the sinking of the Titanic—of course, she saw the movie multiple times. Sean Gordon (Colin) and Alexandra Salter (Allison) perform a marvelous comic “two-step” kind of relationship that vacillates between heated passion and friendly “dissing” before they settle (with music from the movie “Titanic”) into a romantic engagement, ring and all.

Another pair sitting at angled desks (obviously an office space) is a young man, Scott, and a young woman, Sahar, purportedly working on their respective computers but sneaking in personal emails now and then, giving occasion for comic as well as probing dialogue. He is a gay Midwesterner, one of the many who come to New York to find their niche and maybe love. She is a Moroccan woman in a head scarf indicating her traditional upbringing but flirting with modern NYC life. Royce Thomas Johnson plays Scott with a smooth mix of acerbic humor and warm charm while Chandini Prakash imbues Sahar with genuine warmth—she also has the gestural body language of an Arabic woman to perfection. The two establish very quickly that they enjoy a warm working relationship.

The fourth pair is another manifestation, this time of a specific NYC dream—to make it as an actor! Roy, the son of Japanese immigrants, is played by Milai Taguchi who himself has had a significant career as an actor in theatre and television in Japan. He plays Roy with an empathic understanding of the difficulty of breaking into the NYC theatre industry which has not been open to diversity. His partner is Grace, an actor of middle age who deals with another problem, getting roles as an “aging” woman. In the performance I saw she was played by Renee-Michele Brunet who stepped in on 48 hour notice. She was persuasive as she portrayed an actress who has worked hard “to make it” in the industry while working to keep body and soul together. Grace works as a temp in one of the WTC offices and has invited Roy to come there (and see the view) while they run lines for their upcoming showcase production of “Barefoot in the Park”. Willet has cleverly interspersed lines from that play that echo the actual actors’ sentiments.

Each pair reflects the dreams, the energy, and the dynamism that gives New York its special flair and feeling of unlimited renewal. However, each character also reflects the harshness of life in the Big Apple that makes keeping dreams alive and pursuing them a constant challenge. Relationships are formed on a provisional basis, often situational, and fraught with precariousness. Sharp wit often covers up the deeper anxiety.

The director Eliza Beckwith allows each couple in their respective spaces to develop the specifics of character and the relationship while moving the play forward. Maureen Weiss designed an ingenious set in the small space of the Gene Frankel Studio evoking the interior and the window structure of the WTC. Ethan Samaha designed the lighting and Kim B. Walker’s costume design clarified each character’s position.

The audience knows what comes the morning after the night time and is able to predict for some of the characters the ominous doom that may befall them. One can feel the ineluctability of fate in “9/10”. The ghosts hover over this play but the lively energy and honest commitment of this group of actors to the characters and their implied stories also transcend the ugly memory of 9/11.



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