Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New York Water by Sam Bobrick


By Joe Straw

I was in the lobby of the lovely Pico Playhouse and I noticed the stills of the performers on the wall, one in particular caught my attention.   

I said to my partner, “Wow, this actor is the spitting image of” – and then I drew a blank.  You know! The guy! The face! Westworld! The guy who’s married to Paula Prentiss!  What’s his name? She didn’t know so I resorted to Google – typing Paula Prentiss – there it was, Richard Benjamin – neurons and synapses rejoined - I went back to the photos to see the name “Ross Benjamin”. 

Ross Benjamin, hmm that’s unusual. I wonder if he is related? I asked around and found out that Ross was their son. Sometimes I can be so dense.   – Narrator

The Pico Playhouse has been changed.  They took out all of the seats, the proscenium stage, and now have the audience sitting on risers three quarters around the playing area that is on the floor.  It is much more intimate.

The West Coast Jewish Theatre presents the West Coast Premier of New York Water by Sam Bobrick, directed by Howard Teichman, produced by Howard Teichman and Bill Froggatt, and is now playing at the Pico Playhouse through December 17, 2017.

New York Water by Sam Bobrick is theatre of the absurd, or a farce.  That’s all you really need to know to just sit back and enjoy this wicked and wonderful ride.

Mania: 1.) excessive excitement or enthusiasm; craze or 2. psychiatry, manic disorder.

Linda Shoup (Bridget Flanery) has problems. It’s not something that we see or understand right away.  On a pleasant Sunday afternoon in her sparse singles apartment she pulls herself together and rushes into the kitchen to grab a stack of steak knives and a crowbar.  She places the steak knives under the cushions of the sofa and chair and she delicately hangs the crowbar on her quaint inexpensive lamp.

The man she is waiting for is a prospective mate, a fly caught in her web by way of an unusual personal ad. Finally, he rings the door.  Linda, finished with her weaponry placement, runs to unlock the many latches on the door.   

Idiosyncrasy: a characteristic, habit, mannerism, or the like, that is peculiar to an individual.

Albert Hives (Ross Benjamin) gambols in (slight exaggeration here) to her apartment. He is a little out of breath, and his brain is not functioning at full capacity. He has just skipped from the subway to her apartment and then entered through the broken glass of her apartment building’s front door.  It is only by happenstance that he has made it up the stairs and to her door.  

Blindsided by the unknown, in a room alone, they are caught in the own personal inadequacy; their intercourse lacks a defined authenticity and intimacy. But here in her own element, Linda is slightly elevated in standing; she is the puppet master, the controller of her imaginary strings. 

On top of developing a relationship, both are looking to move up in their social status. Albert is an accountant, and a not very good one at that.

“You said you are a professional.” – Albert

“Yes!” - Linda

“A professional what?” – Albert

“A professional receptionist!” – Linda

It’s almost enough to hastily skip out of her apartment. Still, Albert stays.   

The knives are lying tranquil under the cushions.

A creeping love always blossoms in inexplicable ways and the way they have come together is no exception.   Linda hired a clown, of all things, with balloons at Bloomingdales to pick up a wealthy prospective husband.  It didn’t quite work that way as Albert was just skipping by. Albert won’t go into Bloomingdales – the cologne nauseates him.  But he saw the clown, filled out the postcard and sent it in.

Linda had the postcards tested, handwriting analysis, et al, and found some positive things about Albert.  

Albert, still not completely satisfied and ready to bail, learns that Linda’s rent is $3600.00 a month and really “it’s only twelve blocks from a nice area!”  Despite their physical, emotional, and psychological handicaps, both are wide-eyed and open in their approach to finding a substantial mate.

But what was the clicker?

It couldn’t be that Linda, laying all of her cards on the table, releases information about her alcoholic mother, and her gay father.  She also lets it slip that she accidently killed her grandmother when she was 9 years old!

No, that wasn’t it.

Now, probably thinking of his speed, how fast he can run from her apartment, Albert tells Linda that he can’t run because of his bum knee. She could catch him if he decided to bolt, instead he asks for some New York water, because whatever she is feeling in her manic state, he wants some of the same.

But, when Linda goes to the kitchen for water, Albert discovers the crowbar and then the knives, and before she comes back in Albert has hidden most of her tools of destruction under the sofa.  

She interrupts him with a glass of water that is yellow.  She says it’s lemonade, old lemonade, with no ice. Albert is now a little cautious.

“Drink it!” – Linda

“What did you put in it?” – Albert

Linda might be thinking about the knives right now. But Albert beats her to the punch by grabbing the crowbar and Linda sees this and goes for the machete.

“Are you planning to kill me?” – Albert

“No!” – Linda

Sam Bobrick’s New York Water is funny, farcical, and absurd all at the same time. The play isn’t as absurd as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, or as farcical as Michael Frayn’s Noises Off but manages to make its mark on making fun of life, liberty and the pursuit of relationships.

For the most part, New York Water is a story of a love relationship, a love that doesn’t work so well. But the title New York Water has little to do with the New York water and does not present a grand through line for that matter. In this version, water plays little in the actions of the characters.  After Albert drinks the lemonade (water), he loses some of his inhibitions and asks Linda to marry him. Possibly this is the reason for the proposal.  It’s hard to see anything else.  They just met.

But after they leave New York for Davenport, Iowa they don’t take the water with them.  They finally get accustomed to each other. Not drinking the water, secrets are released, and the relationship gets strained.  Bobrick’s play also makes fun of Hollywood and the way films are made.  How that relates to New York water is unclear.  

The character Linda falls in love with a character we don’t even see, Albert’s brother, an interesting non-Pakistani cab driver who writes a successful book and becomes famous overnight while the main character languishes in his shadow trying not to succumb.  

One would take out the 84-year-old director in this play.

Bridget Flanery is very successful as Linda Shoup.  Her voice is strong and her mannerisms are excellent when the character moves back to New York. Manic, or one end of the bi-polar spectrum, is a word that I would use describe Shoup. Forceful in her vocal prowess she is capable of anything.  That being said the first scene doesn’t go far enough in the manner she would react to a man completely her opposite. How are they so completely different that she would accept his proposal of marriage?  She has to love something about him, or at least find something charming in order to accept the journey she is about to embark upon.  

Ross Benjamin also does well as the unsuccessful accountant Albert Hives. There’s more work to be done in the first scene in order to discover the love match.   Hives has to throw out the bad (knives, crowbar), find the good (her personality, maybe?) and then find the reasons to propose.  This is his last chance for love and we should see that, his fears, his sorrows, his joys. All of these things must come into play in order for him to find his successful mate. After they leave New York for Iowa, Hives is on a downward spiral, pleading for his mate to help him. Los Angeles is even harder on him; there, this accountant is mowing lawns. This is a farce and all movements should include elements of farce and let the reality take care of itself.

Howard Teichman is one of the finest directors working in intimate theatre today.  He understands acting, how actors relate on stage, and is exceptional when defining moments. New York Water presents some challenges in the presentation and in the writing that necessitates a clear directorial stamp, a defined stamps as to what this play is about. Teichman manages to define the relationship but we need to see the why.  Why do they fall in love?  Why do they fall out of love?  What are the moments that supremely change the relationship?  Why does an accountant mow lawns?  Why does a producer of a film allow an eighty-four old woman to direct her film?  Possibly these are things that need a visual element to highlight to moments.  

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Bill Froggatt - Associate Producer/Sound Designer/Video Projection
Henry Lide -  Stage Manager
Kurtis Bedford – Set Designer
Ellen Monocroussos – Lighting Designer
Phil Sokoloff – Publicity
Michael Lamont – Photographer

Run! Run! And takes someone who finds delight in unusual personalities.

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