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Review: N/A Is the Nancy Pelosi-AOC Fan Fic Nobody Asked For

Mario Correa’s political two-hander makes its world premiere off-Broadway.

Ana Villafañe and Holland Taylor star in Mario Correa’s N/A, directed by Diane Paulus, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
(© Daniel Rader)

The audience adores her. They laugh at her zingy one-liners. They nod approvingly at her shrewd observations about American politics. And they clap unreservedly as she mentions her greatest legislative hit (the Affordable Care Act), as if she were Joni Mitchell queuing up “A Case of You” at the Café Carlyle.

I’m talking about Nancy Pelosi, as played by Holland Taylor in Mario Correa’s N/A, now making its world premiere at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. If you’re looking for a comedy that flatters the sensibilities of Boomer liberals without ever rudely suggesting that they might bear some responsibility for the overwrought state of our politics, this is your ticket.

It charts the relationship between the longtime Democratic Speaker of the House and leftist upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, played here by Ana Villafañe (the characters never refer to each other by name and are simply denoted as “N” and “A” in the program — but we know who they are). When we first encounter her, A is standing in N’s office and broadcasting a live video to her followers. “Like Jesus,” N quips, to which A responds, “He had only twelve.” It’s her best line in the script.

N is the consummate legislator, more obsessed with what is possible (“My favorite number…218”) than what ought to be. “I believe in doing the work,” she tells A, speaking reverently of the work (that musty progressive cliché) all throughout this 80-minute political hagiography.

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Ana Villafañe plays Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Mario Correa’s N/A, directed by Diane Paulus, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
(© Daniel Rader)

Impatient for change, A believes that N and her ilk have been in Washington too long and are disconnected from the daily struggles of working Americans. She’s not afraid to target fellow Democrats in her quest to bring democratic-socialist revolution to Capitol Hill — which causes plenty of friction between A and N as they take on Trump, the January 6th rioters, and the abortive “red wave” midterm elections of 2022.

Villafañe is the more convincing mimic of the two, perfectly capturing AOC’s pitch and cadence. She does a fine job completing the task set out by Correa’s script, which is to set up the pins for Taylor to knock down.

When N thanks A for her courage in running for Congress, A remarks, “You make it sound like a horror movie,” to which N replies, “No. Horror movies end.” Correa’s script is full of such exchanges, with A cast as the earnest straight (wo)man throwing softballs to her comedy partner.

A veteran of multiple television sitcoms (most notably Two and a Half Men), Taylor easily knocks them out of the park. Just a flick of her eyes or a curl of her lips is enough to make some members of the audience squeal with delight. She’s less Nancy Pelosi than she is Lady Bracknell with a gavel. She dispenses salty morsels of wisdom, hoping against hope that her young colleague will internalize them.

Ana Villafañe and Holland Taylor star in Mario Correa’s N/A, directed by Diane Paulus, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
(© Daniel Rader)

Correa is clearly interested in the generational rift within the Democratic Party, with N as the avatar for the old way of doing business and A as the representative of an impatient incoming generation more interested in social media performance than legislative process. That makes N/A feel like a less funny version of the HBO buddy comedy series Hacks, about a young queer writer who forges a satisfying professional relationship with an older stand-up. They learn from each other, and both become better comedians and people. But N/A is far less balanced than Hacks, and the audience is never in any doubt that A has more to learn from N than the other way around — if only she would listen. You’ll laugh at N’s quips, but they are unlikely to challenge your priors.

Diane Paulus helms the production with a steady hand and on a relatively slim design budget. Myung Hee Cho’s set of transparent office furniture on dull carpet suggests a popup Thai restaurant more than the hallowed halls of Congress, while the costumes (also by Cho) are off-the-rack politician standard. Lighting designer Mextly Couzin and sound designers Sun Hee Kil and Germán Martínez facilitate scenic jumps in the narrative with little blackouts and sound cues. While the projections (by Possible and Lisa Renkel) offer crucial context (the change of house seats, the invasion of the Capitol) in the form of a cable news promo. Everything is ancillary to the performances.

Of course, the problem with stage histories is that they often reduce grand historical movements and cultural shifts into a clash of personalities — the impetuous whippersnapper versus the sassy old broad. It does nothing to explain the insurgent forces that brought about AOC’s triumph over a well-funded machine Democrat, nor will it shed much light on the reactionary movement that just this week banished her fellow squad member, Jamaal Bowman, from the Democratic ticket. This conflict is very much ongoing, which makes Correa’s play feel unfinished.

N/A succeeds as a light summer comedy for the vote-blue-no-matter-who set. But if you’re looking for reassurances that liberals young and old have, over the last decade, learned any valuable lessons that will keep Donald Trump out of the White House, I’m afraid they’re not available.

 

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N/A

Final performance: September 1, 2024