BAYCHESTER AVE.—THE BRONX
The Baychester Avenue subway station in the Bronx is, literally and symbolically, the last stop before the end of the line. It's also the informal clubhouse of three young men who exchange confidences there, banter with the stationmaster, Mr. Abrams, and sneer at the denizens so uncouth as to urinate on the stairs instead of in a corner of the station. In this summer of 1991, under the avuncular eye of "Mr. A," the three companions—Deac, home from college, Fuquan, a peripatetic musician waiting for his big break, and Ray, who readily admits to having no plans—struggle to find their place in a universe where, as one of them remarks, "The opportunity train not only doesn't stop—it don't even run through."
As premises for drama go, "this system sucks" is as good as any, I suppose. But playwright Dominic Taylor stacks the deck in his episodic narrative Baychester Ave.—The Bronx, conveniently ending scenes at the point when a rebuttal hangs in the air. A frustrated Fuquan answers Mr. A's reminiscences of the radical 60s, for example, by demanding, "What has your struggle done for you? What have you got for your struggle?" The answer—three squares, a roof, and a job"—is so palpable we almost shout it out for him. But for Mr. A to say it would introduce argument to a play relentlessly focused on dead-end despair, and his function is to maintain that single note.
The only character past adolescence, Mr. A is also the sole voice of All That Has Gone Before. In addition to advising his young friends against bad company, he's required to wax nostalgic about his days of murder and arson with the Panthers, deliver a detailed summary of black American history from 1963 to the present at a moment that calls for action, and fail to recognize his estranged son in a hood with few secrets. It's as if in him the experiences of several characters had been consolidated into one sociological amalgam. Fuquan, Deac, and Ray likewise seem less individual human beings than composites, their speeches and actions dictated by the playwright's needs at particular moments.
Director Michael E. Myers and his cast of seasoned players—most notably Trent Harrison Smith as the mercurial Fuquan and Willie B. Goodson as Mr. A—do what they can to give coherence to this mosaic, written in an arcane and virtually unintelligible urban argot. But they cannot salvage Taylor's bleak denouement, in which those who attempt to build their ships fare no better than those who swim out to meet them or wait passively for them to come in. The ennui-soaked hostility of Baychester Ave.—The Bronx offers no spur to action, except perhaps urinating in the Wilson Avenue el station on the way home.
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
Shattered Globe Theatre
Life in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn in 1955 isn't easy either, but longshoreman Eddie Carbone has tried to do right by his wife, Beatrice, and his niece ,Catherine. Then Beatrice's two immigrant cousins arrive to live with them, setting in motion a chain of events that finally cause this fundamentally good but deluded man to invite his own death.
Arthur Miller's modern tragedy A View From the Bridge has lost none of its power, but Shattered Globe Theatre's production looks hastily assembled. Many of the actors seem not yet comfortable with their roles (Doug McDade in particular, though competent enough as Eddie, seems not to know what to do with his hands), rushing toward confrontation and climax with barely a pause for nuance. Exceptions are Don Tieri, who has the steely fire of an avenging angel, and Rich Baker, who interprets the action for us with compassionate wisdom, if in a slightly shaky accent. Still, a revival of this American classic, nowadays rarely done outside educational venues, is always welcome, and with a little settling in this one should be no exception. v