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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
ONE NOVEMBER YANKEE
at 59E59 Theaters

CRASH LANDING
By BRIAN SCOTT LIPTON

  Harry Hamlin and Stefanie Powers/ Ph: Matt Urban

As befits a play that centers around a large yellow plane, Joshua Ravetch’s One November Yankee, now at 59E59 Theaters, takes flight and lands with a thud in practically equal measure over its 80-minute runtime. In creating a set of three interconnected stories, each focusing on a different pair of siblings, Ravetch shows he can write a riotous one-liner, but also throws in jokes that were tired 50 years ago. Similarly, he offers trenchant commentary on the importance of family and our universal desire for truth, while often drowning the work in puddles of unearned sentimentality.

Luckily, he has two aces on the stage: beloved TV stars Harry Hamlin (L.A. Law) and Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart) – who play all three sets of siblings – not only work their proverbial tails off to make even the weakest material sound believable, but audiences can simply bask in the glow of the duo’s ever-present glamour when the ride gets particularly bumpy. (Both actors look great, no matter if Kate Bergh’s costumes are chic or slightly shabby.)

Now, to be precise, there are actually two yellow planes involved in this show (although there’s only one present on Theater B’s small stage, realistically designed by Dana Moran Williams): One aircraft has crashed in the New England woods, while a replica of that plane sits in the Museum of Modern Art as the play opens. It’s the latest sculpture by effete artist Ralph (entitled “Crumpled Plane”), and it’s the centerpiece attraction of a hot new exhibit curated by his ultra-sophisticated, ultra-bitchy and ultra-bitter older sister Meg (who like all the other women in the play, can’t seem to hang on to a husband). Their relationship is frankly more toxic than loving, with Meg belittling Ralph at every opportunity and bemoaning everything from the loss of her Tiffany earring to her hormonal imbalance, so we’re rather glad when Ravetch moves us onto the next scenario.

While the show’s middle act may sound like a real stretch for Hamlin and Powers, as they are asked to impersonate Harry and Margo, a still-aspiring middle-aged Jewish novelist and his fast-talking “failure” of a sister, it’s actually the most successful part of the triptych. Here, the two actors (and their alter egos) really connect. Their bond seems realistic, even familiar to many in the audience (who among us hasn’t kept a long-held family secret), and their bickering is more petty than mean-spirited.

The same can be said, to some extent, of Ronnie and Mia, our final “passengers,” although their exact relationship is a bit unclear for a little while. But all eventually makes sense as we learn these siblings became estranged after their older brother died in a plane crash, and what we’re witnessing is a slightly uneasy but much-needed act of reconciliation. What’s truly believable is that Ronnie is particularly angry that his brother died while others survived (most notably those who lived through the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson”), and Hamlin is extremely moving in those passages. Meanwhile, Powers is quite convincing as a woman who has tried her best (if not completely succeeded) to make peace with the past.

Still, like most playwrights, Ravetch should have hired a director rather than taking the wheel himself (even if he has previously directed a lot of his own work). In theater, a second set of eyes and ears is usually really helpful – just like they are in the cockpit.

 


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