When Lionel Kranitz last enjoyed a taste of The Big Apple, it was as an actor, both on and Off-Broadway. He now returns as an award-winning playwright and director with a pair of one-act plays, collectively titled Bridges, which traverse the varied distances between two sets of very different people, and the needs and eccentricities which bring them together, for better and for worse.
The opening act, Reach Out And Touch Someone, finds Ida Birnbaum (Miriam Babin), an elderly woman, at home alone with her cat, when an obscene phone caller, Neil (Joseph Riccobene), disrupts her peaceful world. Lonely and curious, Ida doesn't hang up. Moving beyond Neil's initial dysfunctional needs, a conversation quickly ensues, taking on varying levels of insight and intensity. The gentle Ida tries to innocently delve into what lurks behind this mysterious, rather bleak identity--the real man behind a troubled yet powerful voice on the other end of a call that she knows she should not be having. Their cat-and-mouse game is both comical and alarming as Ida teases Neil about being called Toyota (meaning LaToya, as in Michael Jackson's sister); he reacts by continuously turning their conversation back to his own disturbing need for sexual gratification, forever wrestling for control of the conversation.
Ida's cozy apartment is a stark contrast to Neil's sterile environment, where he sits on a cot or paces on and off stage, reminding the audience of how distant and anonymous he is to Ida, who slips into her slippers and sits in her favorite chair, only getting up to check on her beloved cat. The peaks and valleys of their dialogue build with an eerie, chilling intensity as Kranitz, whose numerous one-act gems have received high critical acclaim from San Francisco to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, works warmth and humor into a very tense 45-minute conversation.
Both Babin, who first played the role of Ida in San Francisco, and Riccobene, who hails from theaters in Boston as well as the Irish Repertory Theater here in New York, give compelling performances in this unsettling tale.
The second piece, You And The Night and The Music, explores the bridges and bonds of a San Francisco friendship between a heterosexual cab driver and an aging accountant who dresses in drag on weekends. For five years they have met every Friday night to share a slice of life and talk about how life impacts on them. On this particular Friday, however, Bernard (Richard Springle), otherwise known as Bernice, shows up late, raising the tension himself and the driver (Ross Haines), thus leading to deeper revelations about their respective lives, roles, boundaries and friendship. That which we need, or think we need, in order to find any sort of self-fulfillment or self-gratification in a relationship, is what is wrestled with in this play, both literally and figuratively.
You And The Night And The Music is superbly crafted by Kranitz to evoke plenty of laughter as the depth of this interesting relationship unfolds. Springle is marvelous as the accountant struggling with both his identity and his pumps, while Haines is quite believable as the grounded, uncomplicated, yet very knowing and compassionate cabdriver.
In Bridges, Kranitz fully develops and explores four very distinctive individuals in a simple, understated manner that highlights playwriting and not gimmicks or window dressing. The contrasting rooms of Reach Out And Touch Someone and the hallowed-out shell of a taxicab in You And the Night And The Music, both of which were designed by Peter Lach (who also provided the lighting), fit especially well into the basic yet intimate and comfortable setting of the New 42nd Street Theater.