Natalie Rine, Contributing Critic - New York City
Billed as a sort of sexy exposé of the underbelly the city, MIDNIGHT STREET follows the prostitute Danielle through an hour of an essentially glorified, convoluted monologue about how tough and haughty she is. Alone on stage the majority of the show, Danielle muses to the audience about how she got to work on the streets and how she feels about her life, but dramaturgically speaking this creates zero conflict or stakes, therefore zero empathy, for the majority of the show.
Actor Emily Afton, of Broadway’s AMELIE and HAIR, deserves praise for extracting what little arc her character has for the occasional sympathy and laughs, and guiding us through such dull and monotonous tunes as “Love Song,” “My Always Love,” and “What’s Love For” (yes, these are three separate songs somehow). A feigned attempt at writing a strong female character, Mr. Cohen has instead imbued Danielle with such brass and effrontery that she is not only unrelatable but unbearable. Her pride gets momentarily interrupted by the introduction of two self-proclaimed religious zealots desiring to be her pimps. However, this introduction to much-needed conflict in the story is short-lived as Danielle has nerves of steel and some actual deadly hidden steel in her handbag. Ah, well.
Beyond the underwhelming writing, MIDNIGHT STREET hints at the intellect and insight of Mr. Cohen, who holds a bachelors and masters in English Literature. Sprinkled between the vague songs are rousing outbursts from the zealous pimps decrying Judaism and quarreling who truly works in the Spirit of God. Juxtaposed with the sleepy, blasé positioning of Danielle just floating through life, these men imbue fire in the show, albeit misdirected since nothing prior in the show supports their random outbursts of religious revulsion and persecution. Nothing, that is, unless one is familiar with the source of these characters’ names, which breezes by in the show without a much-needed second thought: King Saul, the leader, and his associate Antipas.
In the Bible, the man named Antipas is mentioned only in the Book of Revelation and is described as a martyr for the Christian faith; described as a "faithful witness" of Christ Jesus; and described as dwelling and ministering where Satan had his seat. The traditional (possibly fictional) Antipas was reputed to be the Bishop of the Christian church at Pergamos, and that he was martyred for his faith because of his consistent faithful witnessing in the face of all the satanic evil present there. Played with unrelenting exuberance by Rafael Jordan, MIDNIGHT STREET’s Antipas rails against Judaism, thinking his maniacal persecution is along the lines of this Biblical “faithful witnessing,” a hateful, misguided interpretation of what it means to represent Christ. By the end of the show then it is no surprise he is willing to die.
The character King Saul has a more recognizable namesake, the first king of Israel named meaning “asked for, prayed for.” Danielle certainly did not ask or pray for him to appear, although he thinks of himself as the answer to her sinful, shameful life. In the Bible, his reign, traditionally placed in the late 11th century BCE, marked a transition from a tribal society to statehood. In this sense also, he comes at a time when Danielle is speaking of a change of pace, reflecting on the monotony of her resignation to her constant dark circumstances. Our King Saul then offers her a way out—a transition from independent free agency to working for him as her protector, lord, and savior; he’s a pimp, but with a religious zealot flair acting in his (comparatively quieter) way as an agent of God. Lenny Wolpe, from Broadway’s BULLETS OVER BROADWAY and WICKED among others, places Saul as a stoic antidote, a falsely reassuring presence in the midst of Danielle and Antipas’ chaotic natures.
If I may dive deeper, two opposing views of Saul are found in classical rabbinical literature. One is based on the reverse logic that punishment is a proof of guilt, and therefore seeks to rob Saul of any halo which might surround him; this aligns with MIDNIGHT STREET’s portrayal of a man resigned to be confronted by Danielle’s self-possessed power and assiduity to protect and look out for herself without him, including confronting him with a gun he basically says he deserves.
One rabbinical thought refers to Saul as only a “weak branch” (Gen. Rashi 25:3), owing his kingship not to his own merits, but rather to his grandfather, who had been accustomed to light the streets for those who went to the bet ha-midrash, and had received as his reward the promise that one of his grandsons should sit upon the throne. Our King Saul here seems to follow this logic more closely, as he rails about the history of Jewish oppression, painting himself as one in a long line of many who have been physically and emotionally eviscerated by many who would flippantly declare they were only “just kidding,” with deadly results.
To further conclude my rabbit hole exploration of this deceptively surface-level musical, Danielle then is quite the Biblical Daniel, in the mouth of the metaphorical lions’ den, saving herself ultimately from her life and pocketbook being devoured. I wish I could say unearthing these connections made the piece illuminating; however, the musical simply does not address what its message or purpose or characters truly are, leaving audiences to scratch their heads and bolt from the theater unassuming of any larger meaning or impressions.
MIDNIGHT STREET is an amalgamation of caricatures, poetic meanderings, and pretentious language with confusing symbolism—a bold but perplexing flop.
“Midnight Street” is written and directed by Arnold L. Cohen, music directed by Matt Castle. “Midnight Street” stars Emily Afton, Rafael Jordan, and Lenny Wolpe
The creative team includes Assistant Director Jillian Louis, Scenic and Costume Designer Craig Napoliello, Lighting Designer Ross Graham, and Sound Designer & Production Management by FIVE OHM. The Company Manager is Diane Alianiello. The Production Stage Manager is Christine Catti, the Assistant Stage Manager is Angie Perez. Casting is by Howie Cherpakov, C.S.A..
“Midnight Street” runs at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) through June 22. Performances of are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets for “Midnight Street” can be purchased at https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Midnight-Street/Overview?&aid=ven000193900. Run time is approximately one hour and fifteen minutes without an intermission.
Photo Credit: Emily Afton, Rafael Jordan, Lenny Wolpe by Carol Rosegg.