By Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper; Directed by Michael Luggio
Produced by Theater for the New City with New York Theater Academy
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 1.25.15
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue
by Seth Bogner on 1.14.15
Carson Alexander and Andrew Schoomaker in A Hard Rain. Photo by Tatiana Ronderos.
BOTTOM LINE: Conflicted characters gathered together in a not-so-famous bar during one very famous summer prove to be fascinating company.
Each year as winter's frost gives way to spring showers there's a noticeable shift in the city's mood. The pale faces of New Yorkers low on vitamin D start to emerge from hibernation, crowding the gyms with lofty goals of bangin' bikini bodies, leaving those once painstakingly curated Netflix queues to grow stale and out of touch. As the summer days grow longer, the weekends begin to run into the work week and Manhattan seems like one big boozy playground rife with possibility. But soon enough the humidity starts closing in, the subway cesspool reaches its swampy peak, and those same New Yorkers all start to get downright aggressive. It's the stuff of local newscasters' dreams. School is out, the streets are crowded, tensions flare, and crime rates rise.
The summer of 1969 must have been an especially balmy one because the characters in Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper's A Hard Rain all seem to be on edge. The play takes place at a Greenwich Village dive bar just a stone's throw away from the Stonewall Inn, where later that very month another group of sweaty New Yorkers would riot against a police raid and kick off the gay liberation movement. These are the days before the Village was just another expensive Manhattan neighborhood with an Urban Outfitters and a CVS. The rents were cheaper, the men wore dresses, and the hookers roamed free. The bar is run by a mob boss (Michael Garrahy) with a penchant for young boys, the watered-down drinks are slung by a deadbeat single mom (Xandra Leigh Parker), and the clientele consists of a Vietnam vet turned drag queen (Carson Alexander), his uptight banker boyfriend (Andrew Schoomaker), an underage hustler (Nick Ryan), and a corrupt cop (Teo Rapp-Olsson). Turns out that the bar is a front for all sorts of shady mob activity and when the corrupt cop gets wind of this from the underage hustler, things go south and someone turns up in the East River.
The plot is the plot, but the tension here lies within each of these characters, who are all struggling in one way or another to make sense of themselves in a city that wants nothing to do with them. Expertly cast, the actors seem to fit the time period so well that even their body types (we see them all in various states of undress) are from 1969. The performances are passionate, but the direction by Michael Luggio is uneven and the script's choppy scenes either end abruptly or slowly trail off (along with, perhaps, the audience's attention). Still, it's hard not to be engaged, as proven by the audible reaction in the theater to the play's dramatic peak. The set by Mark Macante (who also serves as lighting designer) is dingy without being specific, suggesting any dive bar anywhere. Mimi Maxmen's costumes are perfectly period without trying too hard, and make me nostalgic for the pre-skinny-jean days of yore.
It seems odd to write a play set in a dive bar next door to arguably the most famous dive bar in the country, during the same summer that would play host to the riots cementing its legendary status. However, focusing the lens not on the action central to the gay liberation movement, but on the riff-raff at the edges, is in a way a more dramatically interesting choice. While it's a bit of a bumpy ride and the one-liners sometimes fail to land, the cast of characters and the high temperature performances in Theater for the New City's production of A Hard Rain make for memorable company.
(A Hard Rain plays at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, through January 25, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 seniors and students, Tuesdays pay what you can and can be purchased at theaterforthenewcity.net or by calling 212.254.1109.)