BY ROB KENDT
Special to Newsday
October 19, 2007
Any addict could tell you: Sometimes more feels like less.
That's one problem with Bob Glaudini's overloaded yet undernourished new play, "A View From 151st Street," which follows both dealers and cops in a tale of drugs and despair in contemporary Harlem.
Another problem: This storytelling approach evokes unfortunate comparisons to the far superior HBO series "The Wire" - an impression only heightened by the casting of the appealingly scruffy Andre Royo, who played the addict-informant Bubbles on "The Wire," who here plays Ray, a Gulf War vet recovering from a crack problem.
To help him back on his feet, a fellow Gulf vet, Daniel (Juan Carlos Hernandez), invites Ray into his home, to the objection of his sister (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and the concern of his wife (Liza Colon-Zayas).
They've soon got bigger worries, though, since Danny's day job is undercover narc cop. We don't see him on duty for very long before he's felled in an acrid, violent showdown with crack dealer Delroy (Craig "muMs" Grant) and his hothead sidekick (Gbenga Akinnagbe, another "Wire" alum).
The rest of the play lurches awkwardly between these two worlds: the bleak concrete underpass where an increasingly distraught Delroy partakes of his own supply and raps, bitterly and sometimes thrillingly, alongside a sizzling onstage jazz quartet (music is by Michael Cain), and the cramped apartment where Danny recovers haltingly from his gunshot wound.
The social ironies of this dual-reality premise could be ripe and revealing, and for a while there's a crackle of suspense about how they might recollide. The insights never materialize and the frisson soon dissipates, since Glaudini has managed to crowd his "View" with characters and mini-conflicts without giving the overarching story a strong or satisfying shape.
The play settles all too quickly into a monotonous back-and-forth rhythm of low-stakes recovery-drama cliches: Will Danny ever speak again? Will Ray find Delroy and wreak revenge? Will a skeptical single mom hook up with a handsome detective (Russell G. Jones)? You'll be forgiven for wanting to change the channel.
Nearly stealing the show, and giving it a shot of originality amid the encroaching formula, is Marisa Malone as a matter-of-fact Russian nurse with a very liberal off-duty dress code and genuine, tough-loving skills. As sisters-in-law and fellow schoolteachers, Colon-Zayas and Rodriguez have the easy, edgy rapport that bespeaks long years of knowing each other too well.
Indeed, Colon-Zayas and Rodriguez have spent many years together in the LAByrinth Theatre Company, which, with "A View From 151st Street," has produced its second Glaudini play this year; the first, in March, was the gentle romantic comedy "Jack Goes Boating," also directed by Peter DuBois.
LAByrinth, in short, is a still-young company (15 years young, to be exact) with a lot of well-deserved buzz around it. This lovingly mounted but half-baked bifocal "View," on other hand, is pretty much a buzzkill.
A VIEW FROM 151st STREET. Written by Bob Glaudini. Directed by Peter DuBois. Through Nov. 4 at the Public Theatre, 475 Lafayette St., Manhattan. For tickets, call 212-967-7555. Seen Sunday.
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