- OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic
“And now here I am. Am I alone here? This is who we are. Isn’t this the fate of Generation Y (The Millennial Generation)?” – Claire
When stepping onto or off from the underground (subway), riders are reminded to “mind the gap” – to pay attention to the dangerous space between the train and the platform that awaits a sudden misstep or a trip unawares. There are other gaps in life that are potentially equally hazardous, including those spaces between individuals during conversation or those spaces between the individual and her or his own self-awareness. There are other gaps, of course, that need minding and, perhaps, these are particularly susceptible to certain groups of individuals. The intimacy gap or the “connection” gap might be more problematic for Generation Y – the Millennials. At least that seems to be the thesis inherent in Isla van Tricht’s “Underground” currently playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival.
James (played with a charming elusiveness by Michael Jinks) – is recently out of a long-term relationship and Claire (played with a wonderful spirited persona by Bebe Sanders) – has become disillusioned by the promises made by parents and teachers about success. “They said work hard and dream big, and you could be anything you want to be.” That has not worked for Claire nor apparently for James who, on one lonely night, connect on Tinder and set up a meeting, a debatable date. After spending time at a bar, the newly-pair board the brand new Northern Line Night Tube which, predictably, suffers mechanical problems and challenges the pair’s ability to communicate authentically and without the aid of apps or other mobile assists.
The train gets repaired; however, James and Claire’s budding relationship is not as fortunate. James, rattled by the underground episode, feels the need to give the relationship with his ex-girlfriend Amanda another try and, after three months, meets up with Claire to try to make amends. There’s more to this tale including an odd conversation with Steve (played with a coyness of heart by Andrew McDonald) the bartender and a sleeping man on the underground (also played by Mr. McDonald) who, though looks like the bartender and has the same name, claims not to be the Steve they met earlier. Both Steves try to offer advice of questionable value. Then there is the mysterious voice on the underground (the voiceover) that is heard only by one or the other of the pair which also offers philosophical theories about relationships.
Comedy careens off drama in this play and realism ricochets off magical realism to spin an interesting and engaging tale about loneliness and its discontents. Ms. Van Tricht’s characters are believable and well-developed with characteristics and conflicts that contribute to the play’s non-linear plot. Time and space recede in importance in Ms. Tricht’s understanding of setting here and mood becomes of primary importance. Whether James and Claire will emerge from their loneliness remains unresolved in “Underground.”
At the end of the play, after a tenuous reconciliation is reached in the same bar they first visited, they board the same night underground and the train stops mid-station. The ominous voiceover is heard: “These scribbles reach close with their graphite fingers but never meet, never overlap, never reach each other. Perhaps they aren’t trying hard enough. Mind the gap.” The playwright challenges her characters and her audiences to pay attention to the importance of connection as an antidote to the ennui of loneliness.
Although credit is not given to a set, lighting, or costume designer, all three creative components contribute to the success of “Underground.” Jude Obermuller's original music and sound design appropriately heightens the magical realism of the script. Kate Tiernan’s direction moves the action forward perfectly and her attention to detail is remarkable. Despite the theatrical conceits and themes being somewhat commonplace, the actors bring a freshness to the discussion worth experiencing.
Produced by Shrapnel Theatre & Hartshorn - Hook Foundation for Brits Off Broadway, UNDERGROUND is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).
The cast features Michael Jinks, Andrew McDonald, and Bebe Sanders. Original music and sound design by Jude Obermuller. Whitney M. Keeter serves as AEA Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
“Underground” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 2. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30. Tickets are $25 ($20 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.