by Jason S. Grossman · August 15, 2014
New York City is on the brink of the super storm to end all super storms. It's not hard to fathom the fate that looms in The Dirty Blondes' production of The Tunnel Play at the Kraine Theater. As we brace for a possible natural disaster, we get flashes of two worlds, one above ground, one below. We find two homeless women, Birdy and Priddy, who live in a subway tunnel and a bitter, disenchanted copyrighter, Colin, seemingly living the good life.
We alternate between their two worlds until they collide when Colin and Priddy meet in the subway. The two grapple over a dollar and are soon clashing over philosophies. Meanwhile, a television meteorologist reports that a perfect sequence of storms is due to hit the city. The plight of the characters and their quest for a meaningful existence just might have to take a backseat to the impending doom (or we might be better off if the city was wiped away).
Colin's obnoxious boss barks at him to rewrite his copy for a major client. Colin is overworked and suffering from gross ennui. His existential crisis finds him embracing the oncoming storm.
Writer Ashley Jacobson is not trying to be subtle here. Her characters speak their minds, often sounding single-minded and occasionally preachy. She slyly addresses the pending catastrophe sprinkling copious amounts of dark humor in her dialogue.
Evocative sounds of the city haunt us from the opening of the play and the noise escalates as the storm approaches. Jacob Subotnick's sound design effectively provides a palpable landscape that helps drives the story. Director Courtney Laine Self orchestrates a swift pace with nary a breath from scene to scene. Her blocking punctuates Jacobson's witty dialogue. The simple set design and staging allow for a viscerally dark and depressed New York from every angle.
Laura Bogdanski, Dondrie Burnham, Brett Epstein, Ryan Guess and Chelsea Wolocko make up a solid cast. Epstein is funny and cutting as Colin's belligerent boss. Guess's frustration feels genuine as the misanthropic Colin. Bogdanski and Burham have a familiar chemistry in their self-made "home".
This is a bold debut in the New York International Fringe Festival for The Dirty Blondes, a self-proclaimed feminist theater company. The work displays caustic wit, and they clearly aspire to address relevant contemporary themes. Birdy and Priddy have created an atypical family unit based on platonic friendship and trust. The play leaves it to us to determine whether their existence as essentially "invisible" to society is superior to the conventional one most of us inhabit.
One cannot help but feel a sense of shame in a city where the great divide of socio-economic classes becomes deeper everyday. The Tunnel Play shows us how our meager existences can be instantly upended by a great equalizer.