Directed by Allen Lewis Rickman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
If one desired seeing someone dancing on nails, he or she could view one or more of several short videos on You Tube depicting that activity: one woman even balances pots on her head while dancing on nails. Alternatively, one could view Paul Manuel Kane’s new play “Dancing on Nails” at the wonderful Theatre 80 in St. Mark’s Place in New York City. The latter choice is preferable and certainly more rewarding.
All the characters in Mr. Kane’s delightful tragic-comedic drama are dancing on nails except, perhaps, Luba Fogel (Bryna Weiss) who shares the story of a man dancing on nails in the West Village with her acquaintance (it is not really a friendship) Sam Heisler owner of a hardware store in the Village in 1953. Sam Heisler’s bed of nails is his renewed interest in life and romance after spending time with his new employee Natalie Washington (Jazmyn Richardson). And his injuries result from his family’s abhorrence of the thought he is romantically interested in a twenty year old African American woman who thinks his only interest in her is to support her career in opera.
Natalie’s bed of nails is the healthy dose of racism extant in 1950’s America including the “liberal” lower west side of Manhattan. She is also getting in the way of Sam’s cousin Rose’s (Lori Wilner) attempt to get $15,000.00 from Sam so she and her loser husband Joe (Michael Lewis) can adopt a child. Natalie’s multiple injuries result from racist onslaughts and cruel young white men who torment and bully her as she tries to enter her grandmother’s apartment. Rose’s bed of nails is obviously Joe and Joe’s bed of nails is his life-long low self-esteem that has resulted in the often-jobless life of an alcoholic hater. Their injury is a matrix of disappointment and sadness.
The conflicts between these characters, along with their inner conflicts, drive an interesting plot which at times wobbles off its course and has difficulty regaining sense and sensibility. “Dancing on Nails” is, however, an interesting story with an ample dose of tenderness and tension. When Rose fires Natalie to get her out of the way, the plot muddles and the focus on the relationship between Natalie and Sam weakens. And this is unfortunate since this relationship is where the play’s power resides.
All of the actors deliver honest and thoughtful performances. They are confident in their roles and clearly know the heart and mind of each of their characters. Peter Van Wagner gives the audience a Sam who is tired of loneliness and will do anything to rekindle his fervor for living. Lori Wilner and Michael Lewis are brilliant in their roles as a husband and wife who have been on the brink of sadness since the day they were married. Jazmyn Richardson gives a respectable and tender performance as Natalie who is determined to find her way through the maze of racism and hatred to the success she knows belongs to her. Bryna Weiss’ Luba is sometimes too lethargic but that is an easy fix for this experienced actor.
Allen Lewis Rickman’s direction is generous and even-handed and moves the action along with decidedness and clarity. Vicki R. Davis’ set is functional and with Michael Gottleib’s lighting gives the production a realistic space to perform and create.
All of the actors are to be congratulated on their ability to stay completely focused during the cell phone debacle in the third row. I hope the patron was evicted from the theatre after she stumbled out with her phone STILL ringing.