Review: “The Fan” and “The Diplomat” at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

So here we are: My last night of reviewing at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival, (at least, until I provide my OnScreen review of the short films premiering at the beginning of May) and I once again found myself being treated to two shows for the price of one, so to speak. Both plays had relatively simple titles – The Fan and The Diplomat – but at least one of them proved to be a very deep and thought-provoking work of contemporary drama, and the other proved to be mildly entertaining – if not somewhat cliché – as well.

The “other” that I refer to is The Fan, a short one-act by Adam Seidel about a retired professor turned best-selling author and her former student – portrayed by Elizabeth Elson and Sara Brophy, respectively – about a confrontation in the park that leads to the former being exposed and forced to admit that she is a fraud, who stole the story of her highly-successful book from her one time student, who had used that same story for a class assignment. The production was not outstanding, generally speaking, and I couldn’t help but notice each actor holding and reading from a script during the performance. I also didn’t quite understand why the student did not pursue further action toward the end, which felt somewhat anticlimactic. Nonetheless, perhaps it’s because I’m a writer, but I enjoyed the overall play, the story and acting of which I thought still qualifies as fair, even if not terrific.

After that, it seems as if the best – or at least one of the best, anyway – of the plays I’ve reviewed here at the festival was saved for last. Written by Nelson Diaz-Marcano, The Diplomats tells the story of three college friends – portrayed by Ricki Lynee, Chris Callahan, and Carlos Angulo – who reunite after years of not seeing each other…two days before the night Donald Trump was elected president, and the results are what one might predict from such a situation. While it’s not hard to guess from the play’s dialogue what the playwright’s political leanings are, I found this play to be a rare commentary on our modern political culture that manages to – in an often funny, but also poignant manner – offer a deep reflection of the broader situation and why certain people might think or feel the way they are, and how that has a real-world impact on those surrounding them, rather than to simply preach the perspective of one voter or another. As someone who has some personal experience with former college friends in this matter, I thought this was a refreshing portrayal that I imagine even potential theatergoers of varying political views can appreciate, as well as a mirror into the difficult reality of finding out that some friends from the past aren’t who they used to be…or worse, that they’ve always been a certain way, and that it’s only clear now. At the risk of sounding too preachy myself, discussions about these growing political divides and how to bridge them are important, and plays like this can help, in this regard.

And just like that, my coverage of the theatre portion of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival has concluded. If you ask me, these two plays were a pretty decent way to cap it off. I look forward to seeing what short films are being offered in a few weeks, and if you haven’t already, I encourage our readers to take a look at the festival’s website, to learn more about their remaining events…

“The Fan” and “The Diplomat” each ran for one night only at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival on April 27th. For more information on upcoming events at this festival, please visit