Wednesday, December 11, 2019

131 (2019-2020): Review: ONE NOVEMBER YANKEE (seen December 10, 2019)

“Quibbling Siblings”

 There are three noteworthy presences in Joshua Ravetch’s One November Yankee at 59E59. Two are the actors Stefanie Powers (TV’s “Hart to Hart”) and Harry Hamlin (TV’s “LA Law”), both of them active in all media—including considerable stage activity—but especially well-known for their TV series work. Each remains remarkably trim and attractive, he at 68, she at . . . well, you can dig for it on your own but I assure you that, unless you already know, you’ll be surprised. 

Harry Hamlin, Stefanie Powers. All photos: Matt Urban at NüPOINT Marketing.
The third presence is inanimate, a realistic depiction of a wrecked, yellow Piper Cub, registration number 241-November-Yankee, upside down, its nose smashed into the stage floor of Theater B. It’s perhaps the most memorable scenic unit I’ve ever seen on that modest, little stage. Credit goes to Dana Moran Williams, who places it within a neutral setting ringed by vertical panels. One serves as a screen for an abundance of aviation videos (uncredited), accompanied by Lucas Campbell’s sound score of familiar music (including “Fly Me to the Moon”).

The 80-minute, two-actor, six-character play, directed by its author, escapes being a total wreck itself by virtue of its appealing stars, who recently appeared in its Delaware Theatre Company production. (It first was done in LA in 2012, starring Hamlin and Loretta Swit.) Linking four scenes together, with the same characters bookending the play, its plot navigates around the central image of that upside-down plane, which remains in place throughout.

In scenes one and four, it’s an installation art work at MOMA, created by the insecure, artsy-fartsy, silk-scarf-casually-tossed-over-his-black-shirt Ralph. The show is curated by his fashionista, pun-obsessed, Anna Wintour-like sister, Maggie, ruthlessly cutting in her disdain for her brother’s work. In scenes two and four, it’s an actual wreck, somewhere in the mountains of New Hampshire.
Harry Hamlin.
The MOMA scenes show us the bickering, expletive-larded, awkwardly-dialogued rivalry between the siblings, the chief purpose appearing to be a satire on the modern art world. It’s an environment where objects like a “Crumpled Plane,” as Ralph’s installation is called, can gain notoriety and instigate controversy over what is and isn’t art. (This has thematic possibilities, of course. Just this week, news of Pres. Trump’s impeachment was diverted for a few seconds by the sale for $120K of a rotting banana duct-taped to a wall.)

In scene two, the plane that inspired Ralph’s installation, headed for a Florida wedding, has just crashed. The survivors are siblings Harry and Margo. She, the incompetent pilot, is a librarian, albeit a fashionable one in her slacks and tight, Amelia Earhart-like leather jacket. (The costumes are by Kate Bergh.)

He’s a novelist still struggling for recognition, whose reaction to the accident is “This doesn’t happen to people like us!” by which he means, “Jewish intellectuals.” “It’s the kind of thing you read about in the New York Times and it’s always rich Republican Goyem.” And that, if it somehow makes you laugh, is about the apex of the play’s humor.

So Ronnie and Mia (we even get a “missing in action” joke) find themselves alone in the woods without cellphone service as snow begins to fall and hypothermia sets in. (Wouldn’t there be at least a blanket in the plane’s still accessible interior?) He’s bloody and has a broken leg. Nevertheless, the pair banter lightly, the seriousness of their situation taking second place to leaden attempts at humor based on fraternal squabbling.
Harry Hamlin, Stefanie Powers.
In scene three, five years later, at the same time the art exhibition is opening in New York, a pair of sibling hikers, Ronnie and Mia, come across the plane, the first people ever to spot it. Both are in shorts, hiking gear, and baseball caps, hers attached to phony-looking strands of shoulder-length, silver hair.

Initially shocked by their discovery, Ronnie and Mia's family issues soon dominate, even when they find the remains of the victims—like a jawbone and a watch, not to mention a huge volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Remembrance of Things Past. No matter how important their find, it plays copilot to their own remembrance of things past, like Ronnie’s of his brother’s death or of the plane that landed on the Hudson River.

During scene four, the conclusion, the exhibit opens just as news of the remarkable coincidence of the plane’s discovery is announced. Ralph and Maggie await the reviews before going to the exhibition’s after-party.

Perhaps there’s a message somewhere in here about the vagaries of fate and coincidence and the inter-connectedness of experience (think Six Degrees of Separation). However, the overall superficiality of the writing and characterizations, the implausibility of the action, and the too-frequently banal dialogue defeat any attempt to take the play seriously.  

When the image of a crashed plane upstages even actors like Harry Hamlin and Stefanie Powers, you may be forgiven for taking out flight insurance before you get on board.

59E59 Theaters/Theater B
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through December 29