It's a helluva town, but....

I Love New York -- What's Your Excuse?

By David Kosh
Directed by Ann Bowen
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Raw Space Theatre M
529 W. 42nd St. (279-4200/
Equity showcase (closes Aug. 4)
Review by Jonathan Shandell

This collection of sketches by David Kosh (a screenwriter endeavoring his first foray in the theater) purports to celebrate "that unique breed of human animal commonly known as New Yorkers ... in their natural habitat, the isle of Manhattan." A pleasant-enough project, especially given our current civic climate, which encourages us to take new pride in the everyday heros and quotidian charms of our humble little hamlet. How disappointing it was, then, that much of I Love New York -- What's Your Excuse? lumbered as clumsy caricature, rather than an honest homage to the real people, places, and behaviors of the Big Apple. Sure, the episodes transpired in some cliched big-city settings: a trendy eatery, a corporate cubbyhole, a crowded bus, an apartment breakfast table. But this was just the window dressing for some ordinary yuk-yuk comedy, staged indelicately by director Ann Bowen.

Only one sketch distinguished itself above the others: a strange and wistful monologue entitled Love at First Sight, in which a tough guy narrates a random encounter and surprise love affair with his surgically-converted lover. Actor Drake Andrew talked, moved, gestured, and even sweated like someone you might expect to stand next to in line at the Rockefeller Center post office, and like someone genuinely in love with the constant surprises woven into the city's most diverse social tapestry. Other characterizations, situations, and performances -- including a motor-mouthed woman (Evangeline Johns) who chats up a standoffish commuter (Barry Pomerantz), an executive who versifies his love for cellphones (Terrence Keene), a quirky office temp (Winden Rose) seducing her hapless colleague (Josh Cohen), or an exclusive French restaurant which serves up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to an incredulous couple (Ed Baccari and Eva Lowe) -- might as well have been set in River City or Mayberry, superficial references to the 1961 Yankees or Zabar's notwithstanding. Consistently aggravating the situation was Bowen's direction, which strove repeatedly for the broadly comic, amplifying rather than minimizing the triteness of the writing.

No designers were listed, and little attention was given to the mise-en-scene beyond the necessary props, street clothes, and a basic wash of lights (which occasionally malfunctioned). That's just fine for the demands of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, and the raw ambiance of Raw Space. A project like I Love New York -- What's Your Excuse? will sink or swim not on its design budget, but on the honesty of its satire and the sensitivity of its performances. Any swimming done here was, as some New Yorkers might say, "with the fishes."

Also featuring: Maggie Schnader, Michael Edmund, Jennifer Gill.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2002 Jonathan Shandell