Here's a glance at New York all right — not today's gleaming metropolis but the grimy, bustling town of over 150 years ago. Benjamin Baker's 1848 play was an enormous hit in its day, and its tough but softhearted hero, Mose the fireman, became a popular prototype. This eye-filling — thanks to Lee Harper and Matthew Simonelli's great costumes — if pocket-sized revival also proves largely entertaining.
A Glance at New York gives us country bumpkin George Parsells (Ian Tooley), cheated at every turn by con artists Mike (David Crabb) and Jake (Brian Barnhart) whenever George's friend Harry Gordon (George Demas) turns his back. George's cousin Jane (Laurie Kilmartin) has come to New York with her aunt (Edgar Oliver) to surprise him. Eventually George and Harry run into Harry's old school chum Mose (Jim Sterling), and the three have a series of adventures at a ladies' bowling salon, an entertainment emporium, an auction house, and a ball, running into the cons at every turn.
The cast, which doubles — or triples, in Oliver's case — as required, plays in a confident declamatory style, at times addressing the air rather than each other with a look of peculiar bewilderment. Apart from its brevity — at only 50 minutes, it surely must be a shortened text — and those surreal touches, the show resembles a miniature version of the RSC's famous Nicholas Nickleby.
Director Randy Sharp's fluid production includes several Irish ditties, most affectingly a mellifluous rendering of "The Star of the County Down." Steve Fontaine's ambient sound effects are effectively employed. Props — like the abandoned baby basket entrusted to a puzzled Mose, sparking a touching reminiscence of restoring a child to its mother after a fire — are two-dimensional stylizations.
A Glance at New York was purportedly a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. On home turf, this virtual time machine should find audiences just as welcoming.
Presented by and at Axis Company
1 Sheridan Square, NYC.
Oct. 19-Nov. 17. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com.