Susan Louise O'Connor, Moira Stone, Andrew Schwartz, and Matthew Trumbull in WHY WE LEFT BROOKLYN. Photo by Kyle Ancowitz.
BOTTOM LINE: A sweet and funny New York story that reflects on the life choices actors are forced to make as they grow up.
Why We Left Brooklyn takes place before anyone's actually left Brooklyn. It's the night before Jay (Andrew Schwartz) and his wife Michelle (Susan Louise O'Connor) move out of their Park Slope apartment -- he to Columbus, Ohio to begin a teaching job, and she to their friends' couch, temporarily, until she can leave her New York life behind and join her husband in the Midwest.
On this evening, Jay and Michelle are throwing a dinner party for their friends, a going away party of sorts. The witty banter flies, with lots of jabs at both boring Ohio and snobby Brooklyn. Mostly though, there is talk of professions and what these characters do for a living. See, Jay is giving up his acting career to become an acting teacher. This doesn't sit we'll with many of his friends who are in the arts themselves.
Sacrifice is the underlying theme here, as well as the concept of redefinition. If you spend your days doing another job, one that you're good at and actually sort of like, does that make you a sell-out or a grown-up? This question is at the heart of Why We Left Brooklyn, particularly timely as Michelle is about to maybe get her first novel published. Jealousy drives most of the conflict here as the friends hash out what it means to be in your mid-30s in New York City.
Matthew Freeman's script remarkably avoids trite territory (and let's be clear, this subject matter is hardly new). But when his characters clumsily explain their career goals and long term plans (that sort of involve theatre and sort of don't) it's with an extra level of introspection that necessarily exposes the naïveté of "dreaming big" -- these characters are slightly older and definitely wiser.
Director Kyle Ancowitz skillfully lets the characters behave as naturally as possible so there is almost a voyeruristic quality to the production, like we are watching a party we could have very well been invited to ourselves. The cast is also super successful at this, embodying individuals that are so sincerely relatable they are immediately sympathetic. Schwartz and O'Connor ably carry the production, and they are supported by a talented ensemble. Standout performances include Matthew Trumbull as the couple's awkard and self-loathing friend Charlie, and Jay Leibowitz, as Harry, who delivers one of the funniest moments in the show with deadpan perfection.
Those who work in the theatre industry will get more out of this play than the "normal" folk. But the easily relatable circumstances and in-jokes of New York life will surely entertain anyone from these parts. And at the core are much deeper issues that earn our attention and offer food for thought long after leaving the theatre.
(Why We Left Brooklyn plays at the Fourth Street Theater, 83 East 4th Street, through September 21, 2013. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30PM with performances on Sunday, September 8th at 7:30PM and Sunday, September 15th at 2PM. Tickets are $25. To purchase tickets visit smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444. For more show info visit theateraccident.com.)