By Emily Amarel
Though thunderstorms had briefly flooded the streets and sidewalks of Midtown West and attendees–namely me–arrived sopping wet, spirits were high at Power Plays, a collection of five short, one-scene plays presented by Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB). TBTB is a theatre that’s dedicated itself to advancing the careers of actors and writers with disabilities, so it isn’t surprising that an ongoing theme throughout the show is society’s varying reactions to people with disabilities. This this most evident in The Happy F&*#@!g Blind Guy, written by Bruce Graham, in which Tim, a blind grocery bagger, offends his coworkers with not only his efficiency, but his cheerful demeanor, and again in Underground, written by David Henry Hwang, when a couple’s attempt to enjoy a date night out goes awry once they discover none of the elevators at the 42nd Street subway station are operating.
Above all, each short play revolves around relationships (the phrase “talking movie” came to mind during the first two shorts), the relationships we have with our mothers, our close friends, our coworkers, even ourselves, and how those relationships impact our actions and our view of the world. Perhaps it was the ominous cloud cover I’d seen a couple of hours earlier, perhaps it’s because it’s because I’m coming off the tail-end of a three-month-long existential crisis, but I hadn’t expected Power Plays to ask so many introspective questions of its characters, and thus, its audience. What is old? What’s mediocrity? What does it mean to truly know someone? What does it mean to find yourself? And what does it mean to like the person you’ve grown into? How much of success is hard work and how much of it is just luck? What is a real writer? (That one hit a little too close to home.) And most importantly, why can’t you live in a restaurant?
While some of the jokes felt forced or hokey, the physical comedy in Underground was first brought to life by a security guard on a Razr Scooter (an easy joke to make because when isn’t an adult on a scooter funny?) and because of the short’s larger cast of goofy characters I found myself reminiscing about City Correspondent Stefon, and I thought, “This subway station has EVERYTHING…”
I would have loved to have seen more of Anita Hollander, who played “Bridget” in Bekah Brunsetter’s Murder. And Melanie Boland–as “B”–and her monologue steal the show in the show’s fourth play, Between, John Guare. (It’s also worth noting that the costume designer nailed her garb for the scene; I’m a sucker for draping blouses and salmon hues).
Overall, Power Plays makes for an enjoyable, and affordable, night out. The show is running through June 29, 2014 at Theatre Row. It’s approximately 75 minutes and I suggest that you buy drinks beforehand because it runs without intermission.