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Off-Off-Broadway Review

NY Review: 'The Stranger to Kindness'

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NY Review: 'The Stranger to Kindness'
Photo Source: David Stallings
David Stallings' one-act "The Stranger to Kindness," presented as part of the Frigid New York festival, does not refer to the famous quote from "A Streetcar Named Desire" in which Blanche DuBois declares her dependence on the goodheartedness of those she's just met. Instead, the title characterizes an isolated, elderly woman who shuts herself off from the tenderness of friends and family and as a result dies alone. The slight twist is that the woman is never onstage; the focus is on how her demise affects her neighbor and estranged son.

The 50-minute playlet opens in the seventh-floor hallway of a Manhattan apartment building. Retired waitress Lena is sitting outside the doorway of her friend Nance, who has not answered her phone in four days. Lena has placed calls to the police and Nance's neglectful offspring Paul, who has not seen his mother in several weeks. Eventually, a kindly officer and Paul arrive, only to discover that Nance has collapsed in her kitchen and subsequently passed away.

There are some human and deeply felt connections among the three characters, but this is basically a clichéd type of drama—what I call a "waiting play." The template involves two or more figures being forced to occupy the same space for the length of the piece while waiting for some additional party to arrive and resolve their situation. During the course of the action, the characters, usually total strangers, pour their guts out to each other, usually bemoaning the loneliness inherent in the urban jungle. This type of communication never happens in real life—at least I've never observed it—and is only an excuse for actors to practice their skills at emoting rather than simulating reality.

In this case, Lena and the police officer, Greco, are biding their time until the coroner arrives to remove Nance's body. Paul does not join them, having delivered a showy tear-filled monologue about what a terrible parent Nance was and storming off. Susan G. Bob overplays Lena's tough–New Yorker side but is most effective when she silently listens to Paul's rant. In her wounded eyes you can see Lena's attitude about the young man shift toward understanding. But then Stallings ruins the moment by having Lena tell a cruel joke about Paul after he leaves. Antonio Miniño displays Greco's warm heart without getting syrupy. Mick Hilgers pushes Paul's rage to the forefront and overdoes his big speech. Heather Cohn's direction is efficient and keeps the improbable action moving. This is an adequately done exercise, but it fails to make the leap to convincing verisimilitude.

Presented by Goode Productions, in association with D&A Productions and Fab Marquee Productions, as part of Frigid New York at the Kraine Theater, 85 E. Fourth St., NYC. Feb. 23–March 3. Remaining performances: Sun., Feb. 26, 2:30 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 29, 9 p.m.; Thu., March 1, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., March 3, 4 p.m. (212) 868-4444, www.smarttix.com, or www.frigidnewyork.info.

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