The theme isn’t all that new: one half of a couple, in this case Jason, hasn’t “made it” in New York and is leaving for a teaching job in the Midwest. But the dialogue — satiric wit, intelligence, humor and insight — that emanates from the mouths of Mathew Freeman’s characters is fresh, and makes Why We Left Brooklyn a particular pleasure.
Why We Left Brooklyn could be subtitled, Who Are We Going To Be When We Grow Up? It’s a quandary (should I settle for a paycheck and benefits instead of pursuing my passion?) that flickers through all the lives of Freeman’s characters, those who Jason calls, “The Aspiring.” By which he means gathered friends: aspiring actors, aspiring directors, aspiring writers, young professionals still trying to figure out the direction of their lives.
Freeman nails the ironic banter and angst among ten, thirty-something Park Slope couples and singles at a farewell dinner party for one of their tribe. Jason is giving up his sputtering acting career for a secure job as a college professor in Columbus, Ohio. His wife, Michelle, on the verge of publishing her first book, will be joining him later. He hopes. Jason and Michelle, together almost a decade, are hosting the party.
Freeman zeroes in on the obsessions of hip, urban New Yorkers. There are up-to-date references and humorous riffs on biking in New York (“It’s exercise, not mass transit”), doing yoga (“Yoga is the McDonald’s of inner peace”), gentrification (“hipster bars and faux cuisine”), children (“I think there’s something selfish about having children”), and the latest trend in restaurant food (“Our cuisine,” says chef Harry, “is fear based”).
When Jason’s best friend, Charlie, arrives, Jason welcomes him with, “Glad you could come.” To which Charlie, a wonderfully nerdy single man, replies, “Of course it’s this or sit at home with the cat. And my wife, Netflix. Who loves me.”
Freeman’s tone varies. He can move from sitcom repartee to lines that catch you by surprise and make you sit up. As when Jason turns to fellow actor, George, and says, “Jesus, look at you. Why are you so fat?” And George replies, “I ate your dreams.”
Underneath the jokes lie deep divisions and resentments, which fuel the evening’s narrative and what passes for a plot.
This is a character-driven play, with a cast of outstanding actors. Particularly noteworthy are: Mathew Trumbull, with his purple shirt and socks, as best friend Charlie: David DelGrosso, the actor who is staying in Brooklyn, as George; and Moira Stone, a hyperkinetic single Mom with attitude, as Nicole. These three are larger-than-life “characters,” as opposed to Jason (Andrew Schwartz) and Michelle (Susan Louise O’Connor) who, though the dramatic fulcrum of the play, do not capture one’s emotions. Whether this is the fault of the script or the acting, it’s difficult to say, but there is no fire between the two, which ultimately defeats the impact of the play’s central drama and denouement.
Marguerite Stimpson, is lovely and convincing as George’s “on-trend” wife, Franny; Rebecca Gray Davis and Imran Sheikh, as Dawn and Sanjeet, do well with less-developed roles, as does Sarah K. Lippmann as Leanna. Though Jay Leibowitz does a creditable job as Harry, the chef, he seems physically miscast in his role, less Park Slope food maven than a gangster who has wandered off the set of The Sopranos.
Nevertheless, despite certain weaknesses, I thoroughly enjoyed Why We Left Brooklyn. It kept my attention, my interest, and my respect. Mathew Freeman is a playwright with a great gift for dialogue and a bright future.
Top photos: Jason and Michelle’s Apartment, Park Slope, Brooklyn (photo by Eleanor Foa Dienstag)
Other photos by Kyle Ancowitz:
2. Susan Louise O’Connor and Andrew Schwartz
3. Susan Louise O’Connor, Matthew Trumbull, David DelGrosso, Marguerite Simpson
4. Susan Louise O’Connor, Moira Stone, Andrew Schwartz, Matthew Trumbull
5. David DelGrosso, Marguerite Simpson, Rebecca Gray Davis, Imran Sheikh
Why We Left Brooklyn (or The Dinner Party Play)
Written by Mathew Freeman
Directed by Kyle Ancowitz
Fourth Street Theater (83 East 4th Street)
August 29 through September 21, 2013
Tickets: $25 (via SmartTix on 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com)