by Nita Congress · August 21, 2015
New York is stereotypically viewed as cold, unfeeling, and heartless; home to millions separated by steel and concrete.
From the aching alienation of Eugene O’Neill’s Hughie to the stabbing of Kitty Genovese in full view of unresponsive neighbors to the city’s perennial top-ranking as the nation’s unfriendliest city and its demonization by jingoist candidates as the antithesis of America’s neighborly small towns, New York has a longstanding reputation as a hard place in which to make friends.
Which is of course, like all stereotypes, sheer nonsense.
Last Night at the Carmine gives the lie deftly and defiantly to the heartless city cliché, as it raises a glass or two in celebration of the remarkable proficiency of New Yorkers to forge community within—and not despite—the tall, narrow structures that delineate the city.
The Carmine is a neighborhood bar, has been for decades. But tonight, unbeknownst to most of its habitués, is its last. The ninety-eight-year-old building in which it is housed has been condemned. Seven brief scenes tell how it will be missed. A dozen characters of varying ages, sexes, ethnicities, prospects, and dispositions strut and fret, soothe and flirt, sob and flinch as the evening progresses and the end nears.
Playwright and director Caroline Kelly Franklin has created an empathetic panegyric to the “Third Space” that fuels and facilitates our interactions. She underscores the universalism at the play’s core by setting each scene against a backdrop of an untranslatable word. The profound and beautiful concepts she invokes include wabi sabi, “an imperfection that creates a more elegant whole”; suadade, “the feeling of longing for someone or something that you love which you have lost; and jayus, “a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”
Sad and bittersweet, Last Night at the Carmine drives home the importance of community and of trying to bridge the untranslatable through human connection: a message that in these troubled times cannot be reiterated sufficiently.