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Beate Hein Bennett
Where Love Prevails...
"The Dark Outside" by Bernard Kops
November 6 to 28, 2021 (no shows Nov. 24 & 25, Thanksgiving)
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Wed. & Sat. at 8 PM, Sun. at 3 PM
Gen. Admission $18
Box Office: www.theaterforthenewcity.net (212) 254-1109
Show’s website: https://www.thedarkoutsidenyc.com
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett, Nov. 18, 2021
Austin Pendleton and Katharine Cullison
In this cold ironic and violent age, it takes a 95 year old playwright to allow the full range of emotions, especially Love (writ large), be expressed, exhibited, and amplified on stage. Bernard Kops presents the microcosm of a family where parents and adult children negotiate the delicate threads of relationships in their private urban garden inhabited by an ancient mulberry tree that has heard the plaints of generations. The “dark outside” consists of the deteriorating working class neighborhood of East London that intrudes with noises indicating violence--shouting, sirens wailing, shots being fired, while the darkness in the soul of each family member is gradually bared, illuminated, and ultimately banished by the love they feel and express for each other. Bernard Kops is not afraid of sentimentality but he tempers it with lyrical humor.
The dramatic situation is the birthday gathering for Paul, the aging father of the family. Paul, played with whimsical charm by Austin Pendleton, is a former Savile Row tailor whose right arm was smashed in a car crash caused by a drunk driver (of a Jaguar!) He and his wife, Helen played with patient humor by Katherine Cullison--Kops created this part for her, modeled after his own wife Erica—live in the East End home in which Paul grew up. In his childhood, the area was a close-knit Jewish neighborhood but now his “world is falling apart.” His wife lost her job as a librarian when the libraries were closed; he could no longer work as a tailor when his arm was smashed, and Bangladeshi immigrants entered the garment industry. Helen comments, “Yes, we live in a world of fear and anger but we have to not fall into the trap.” She turns out to be the one that props him up with her irrepressible positive strength and, in the course of the play, she steers her children towards overcoming their own existential crises. Their son Ben has been abandoned by his wife who took their girls; he is played with mercurial anger by Jesse McCormick. The younger daughter, Sophie, suicidal from drug addiction and the unresolved psychological trauma of rape, is portrayed by Brenna Donahue like a delicate lost soul yet receptive to and ultimately saved by the enveloping warmth and trust of her family. The oldest child, Penny, is the only one who seems to have prospered. She is the embodiment of the young professional with global prospects. Kathleen Simmonds gives her the brisk quality of the self-assured successful woman who has it all; yet she is sympathetic to her family’s failures and foibles—she has the resources, financial and otherwise, to be helpful with a touch of smugness that off-sets her personality from the vulnerability of the others. Bernard Kops uses an interesting dramaturgical device to show the bond among all of them by incorporating songs that each one can sing with one or the other that also give a cultural context to the characters.
The director Jack Serio moves the scenes fluidly without break, aided by Walt Spangler’s simple design elements—the action happens downstage in a white rectangular box with a symbolic crack in one wall where the red leaves of the tree pile up (Prop Artisan Kathryn “China”Hayzer) and are used to lovely playful effect. Lighting by Keith Parham is warm with clear delineations for the passages when each character speaks his or her innermost thoughts to the tree. Composer/Sound designer Nick T. Moore underscores the different environments of the private and the outside worlds of the play.
This Theater for the New City production is a world premiere of the play which had a staged reading at the National Portrait Gallery in London on January 17, 2020. The script seems to contain a sense of foreboding prescient of the impending pandemic. It certainly presents the compounded social malaise that has gripped the present time but also provides the antibody for the immune system in the insistent plea for love and kindness.
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