My Edge review of The Pianist of Willesden Lane

http://www.edgeonthenet.com/entertainment//reviews//162434

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Smile on Your Brother—or Spit

There are two kinds of people in this world: subway riders who scooch together when the platform’s packed, and those who stand rooted comfortably apart, content to watch would-be passengers fight like animals to get on board, be crushed by the doors, get left behind. The truth the latter group seems to be missing is that we are all in this together—riders on the same train.

Dutch, the idealistic hero of Robert Glaudini’s Dutch Heart of Man in a new production by Animus Theatre Company (Cherry Lane Theatre, through May 11), is yearning to look out for his fellow man—to make room on the train. A construction worker who takes great pride in his specialty, terrazzo grinding, he repeatedly seeks out meaningful human contact and the chance to do good, but time and again is met with confusion and contempt at his otherworldly selflessness—perceived as naiveté by the disillusioned around him. His awkward failures to connect, most painfully with the woman he has fallen for, drive him to boiling point by the play’s quietly tragic culmination.

The unrequited humanism of Dutch’s fictional world was returned by a notably appreciative audience the night I attended. Any New Yorker with half a heart can’t help but notice and at times deplore the ways we step on and over each other. But the play is more question than answer, examination than judgment, and Glaudini has crafted his story without sentimentality. Under the direction of Alan Langdon, the actors in this smooth staging—only the play’s second since its Labyrinth Theater Company premiere in 2003—are credible down to the smallest role.

Dutch is fully fleshed—the laborer’s welcome physique included—by Zachary Spicer (soon to be seen in Kenneth Branagh’s take on the Scottish Play). In his rich interpretation this gentle giant is anything but a type. As Dutch’s scrupleless foil and the play’s provocateur is Marty, his job-mate and the closest thing he has to a friend. Obsessed with sex and his mother, the 30-something Irish-Italian is played with frightening realism by Jeff Todesco, whose rhapsodies on breasts and his various sexapades I won’t soon forget. The object of Dutch’s affections, Florence, is brought to spirited life by Amy Northup. Another “good person” she cheerfully cares for her mortally emphysemic mother, works two dead-end jobs seven days a week, and has Dionysian needs of her own.

A dusty, plastic-draped, claustrophobic set by Scott Tedmon-Jones could be a construction site anywhere in the world and morphs elegantly to indicate the other various settings of the play. In the intimate Studio at Cherry Lane the experience is deeply and satisfyingly theatrical. Immersed in their underworld, up close and personal with the play’s motley crew, Glaudini’s use of theatrical convention and soliloquy mixed with dead-ringer dialogue beautifully showcases the theatre’s ability to write its own rules.

Glaudini, a child of the Sixties and avant-garde theatre movement, wrote Dutch in the early 2000s. His one-love leanings hadn’t faded since his Greenwich days and the themes resonate today: Why aren’t we better? Could we be? At times Dutch seems proof there are certain people who just can’t bear life in this world, calling to mind the Candidian solution that life is best spent simply tending one’s own garden—or grinding terrazzo—seven days a week.

Dutch Heart of Man is the kind of conversation you want to have with yourself but rarely permit, yet feels so good to have with another. With its many virtues, one wonders how such a moving, thought-provoking and entertaining work has been so long dormant. Welcome back.

Painful Contractions

A contraction ruined one day of my life this week. Or should I say the lack thereof. My husband, who shall go unnamed, is managing partner at one of New York’s best and most beloved restaurants from which on Tuesday he sent out an important Save the Date with the subject line, “YOUR INVITED.”

Our three-year-old son and I were racing out the door—happy, late—and his pronouncement about the error, which coincided with my cell phone buzzing with a text from my mom, “Is it too late for [let’s call him Thomas] to retract the email blast he just sent?” was instant killjoy. Isn’t that just like life? You’re skipping along feeling smart and productive and hopeful, and next thing you know you’re wondering if you married a genuine knuckle-dragging, bona fide eegit.

At Thomas’s expense I will admit the vitriol cyber-spewed at him in response to grammar a “fourth grader should have mastered” was damn near heartening. People DO care and they are sick of it—sick of its and it’s, there and their, then and than, your and you’re, affect and effect, too and to—forget about the murkier bear/bare and principal/principle—being selected much in the manner of pin the tail on the donkey. Or maybe it’s just that folks with a cell or two left from their schooldays like to take a break from full-time Facebooking and get on a high horse. Whatever the case may be, when it comes to grammar there is definitely no such thing as bad publicity.

Back to my husband. In addition to being good at his job and a damn good cook, among other virtues, the man is actually wonderful at the language arts. His “your” could happen to anyone, the modern muddled brain little better than an iPhone at editing the moment-by-moment flood of communications. I have first-rate lawyer and other highly educated friends with roots in the Rust Belt or Iron Range who still emit the occasional, “I would have went there.” At my last job as an editor of dramatic literature we published Toni Morrison’s name with three rs…on a book cover…and almost published Chekhov sans one h. This was after tons of smart people had scoured the documents for just such errors! Today I work in the beauty industry as a copywriter and, with all due respect, my colleagues are not exactly grammatical Titans. As our resident editor, I can hardly keep up. Empirically I have to conclude that even when the rules are known and understood, the less than nimble post-legal-drinking-age brain simply cannot reflexively see or hear that which wasn’t hardwired in early prime.

All my life my family and I have smugly tracked, shared and bemoaned grammatical snafus and the troglodytes behind them. My grandpa stuffs Christmas stockings with books like Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and we find the topic genuinely hilarious. We still split our sides over the year one of my mom’s students proudly presented a letter opening “The New Year has came and went.” Yet this was the first time one of mine was the guilty target and that—apart from a few publishing scares—a moment of my familial bliss was terrorized by language, the news of The Your casting a pall over my rare calm sense that all was well and orderly in the world, or at least mine. A week later my husband’s colleagues are still ribbing him about his less than kingly English and it smarts. Grammar is an indication of education and breeding, and can become emotionalized for the self-made and cultured who have earned rather than inherited their refinements.

Typos, especially electronic ones, are ultimately forgettable and not going to break any bones. But before this incident fades into ether like so many before it, I felt inspired to record the fallout in my first post at Cassandra Communications—a blog I opened to reserve the domain but haven’t known quite what to do with.

In closing, I applaud my wonderful husband for his fearlessness, for achieving so much, for shaking off his failures and never looking back. I beg him to get a proofreader. And I raise my glass to a new generation of grammatically impassioned readers and thinkers who learn to get it write.