Presented by 78th Street Theatre Lab, Practical Cats Productions, and Bulldog Theatre Company at the 78th Street Theatre Lab, 236 W. 78 St., NYC, May 23-June 15.
Over an hour, 37 scenes, and 12 characters later, without the benefit of an intermission, solo actor and playwright Alice Eve Cohen stands triumphant. Her poignant drama, "Thin Walls," peopled with archetypical New York characters, is insightful and compelling as it weaves the storied history of a tenement's past 40 years.
Cohen is masterful at depicting the dialect, emotional center, and minutiae that make each person different and unique. Her apartment building is home to the super and his wife, Mady (a female Archie Bunker); a young-to-middle-age couple and their teenage son; a newly arrived Polish immigrant; a Trinidadian cosmetologist; a visiting Israeli student; Mady's lesbian daughter; a drug-addicted mother and her child; and an immigrant journeyman who makes repairs in the building.
The play begins in 1985 and dramatizes changes over the next 10 years. Mady's husband dies of a stroke, leaving her alone and more outspoken in her prejudices. The couple divorce. The teenage son becomes a reluctant babysitter and later a budding college student. Mady's daughter rebels against her mother and leaves to live with her lesbian lover. The journeyman offers himself to the divorcée as a "good man." The drug-addicted mother loses her young son to the foster care system when he does a "good" acting job of pretending to be his father, nodding and strung out on drugs.
Direction by Elizabeth Margid sets up Cohen in different settings to mark the distinctions. She allows just enough time to deliver a clear picture with the right dramatic shading and then moves on.
The scenic design by Nikolay Sviridchik details six playing areas to suggest a kitchen, living-room area, workspace, back window, and a place center stage with just a black table and stool. Focused lighting by Rick Martin further distinguishes the playing areas.