BOTTOM LINE: A strong cast helps make this story about finding love after suffering loss appealing and engrossing.
Given the time we New Yorkers spend each day taking the subway, and the recent spike in subway related fatalities, it makes sense that Athena Theatre’s production of The Man Under would center so much of its most dramatic moments on this mode of transport. Jeff (Paul Bomba, who also wrote the play) is trying to piece his life together after losing his beloved fiancé. He spends each day awaiting the subway train’s arrival, shaking with anxiety with his eyes glued shut, afraid that with one misstep his life might end. His strange behavior is noticed by the eccentric Lisa (Briana Pozner), who as it happens, bears a resemblance in appearance to his late wife. After this brief encounter Jeff feels a lingering connection and requests the help of his roommate Martin (Curran Connor) to search the city for this mystery woman. When Jeff finally crosses paths with Lisa again he is both intrigued by and put off by her increasingly bizarre behavior which includes lying between rails while the trains are passing and having sex inside the subway. As Jeff attempts to crack her hard exterior he finds that she, much like he, is attempting to recover from a loss. Together both Lisa and Jeff try to find in each other what they need to heal from their recent traumas and learn to love again. Meanwhile, Jeff and Martin’s neighbor Jennifer (Veronique Ory) is attempting to cleanse her life from a toxic boyfriend. As she becomes newly single, both she and Martin attempt to deal with the feelings they have for one another, wondering if they can let their walls down enough to let each other in.
Although The Man Under tackles some overly dramatic topics and its plotline could perhaps use more nuanced drama, Bomba still makes the dramatic and tragic seem relatable by adding in enough day-to-day details, setting the characters' tragedies within the mundane. This helps to make the drama that unfolds more palatable. The appropriately cluttered set (designed by Julia Noulin Mérat) and authentic sound effects (designed by Jeremy S. Bloom) all help to imbue a sense of reality upon a story that occasionally feels a bit unrealistic. Bomba is enigmatic as the play’s leading man, able to convincingly portray both heart-wrenching drama and the lighter comedic moments. Pozner is also convincing during her character’s constant mood swings and more intensely dramatic scenes (including one in which she asks Jeff to choke her). Overall, The Man Under is an appealing, engaging work that explores the missteps we make and the problems we encounter when we attempt to connect with one another, especially in a city like New York, where so many people keep their walls up.
(The Man Under plays at 59E59 Theater, 59 East 59th Street, through February 17, 2012. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30PM; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30PM and Sundays at 3:30PM. Tickets are $17.50-$25 and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 212.279.4200.)