By Robert Lyons; Directed by Jerry Heymann
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 2.13.16
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
by Rachel Abrams on 1.30.16
Steven Rattazzi as Nick and Jeanette Dilone as Andrea in Death of the Liberal Class. Photo by Steven Schreiber.
BOTTOM LINE: A comedy about a dysfunctional family predicting an economic apocalypse makes its world premiere.
What happens when an economic revolutionary doesn’t want to revolt anymore, but his followers are still engaged in the movement? And what happens when those followers are his family? The world premiere of Death of the Liberal Class at the New Ohio Theatre takes a typical dysfunctional family narrative and raises the stakes with an economic conspiracy theory.
Nick (played by Steven Rattazzi), an economic theorist in a midlife crisis, moves out to his wife’s family farm in Canada with their daughter, Andrea (Jeanette Diloné). He finds peace and happiness away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, away from his theories of impending economic doom, and away from his teetering marriage to Daphne (Melissa Murray). Even though Nick has found inner peace, his wife and daughter long for the man he once was, and the three struggle to navigate each other’s desires and keep the family together…while Andrea and her new boyfriend Even (Justin Cólon) get tangled in Internet hacking schemes.
Jason Simms’ set design is particularly impressive. Three rows of thin sliding panels with printed images of woods run up and down the stage. The panels evoke the farm’s peaceful isolation and the beauty of nature. We feel the woods’ constant presence even as the play moves through bedrooms, the farmhouse kitchen, and a barn loft. Director Jerry Heymann capitalizes on this mutable and minimalistic set choice during scene transitions, as characters shift panels back and forth like doors, opening new passages around the old farm. M. Florian Staab’s sound design also stands out in driving interlude music with an electronic edge.
A great collaborative design moment occurs when Andrea and Even watch Nick’s last television interview before sequestering himself in Canada. Heymann positions Nick and the interviewer (Arthur Aulisi) outside of Simms’ onstage “box” framing the world of the farm, and gives the audience the TV camera’s perspective. Staab gives the performers studio microphones for this one scene, and lighting designer Seith Reiser bathes the performers in a clear but soft light; the lighting and vocal manipulation alone are enough to evoke a Charlie-Rose-esque environment. It seems perfectly fitting that here, in the middle of the Canadian woods where one does not expect to find media, the artistic team finds a way to capture a story about a media event without resorting to a screen projection.
Even though she only appears in three scenes, Olivia Horton particularly shines as Maggie, a married woman from a neighboring farm who gets tied up in Nick’s affairs. Horton approaches the work with a delightful truth and simplicity, letting the dark comedy in the text shine through on its own. Her honest performance exemplifies the trickiest truth of comedy: that an actor must commit to the drama of their situation for us to believe a comedy’s stakes, even when the situations are absurd.
How fitting that a play featuring a family redefining “home” makes playwright and the New Ohio’s Artistic Director Robert Lyons feel “like our transition to our new space [on Christopher Street since 2011] is complete!” And how reassuring to see the New Ohio continue to take risks on new plays like Death of the Liberal Class, where an unusual cast of characters can come together in a light comedy with apocalyptic undertones.
(Death of the Liberal Class plays at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, through February 13, 2016. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 5. The running time is 80 minutes without an intermission. Tickets are $18 and are available at NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 888-596-1027.)
Death of the Liberal Class, inspired by the book by Chris Hedges, is written by Robert Lyons and directed by Jerry Heymann. It is produced by Marc Stuart Weitz and Amanda Cooper. Set design is by Jason Simms. Costume design is by Andrea Hood. Lighting design is by Seith Reiser. Original music and sound design is by M. Florian Staab. Props design is by Rebecca Phillips. Production stage manager is Laura Perez. Assistant stage manager is Aldora Neal.
The cast is Steven Rattazzi, Jeanette Diloné, Olivia Horton, Justin Cólon, Melissa Murray, and Arthur Aulisi.