By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
NEW YORK — Philadelphia-bred playwright Victor Kaufold peoples his new play Bridesburg with stereotypes so unnuanced, even their single dimensions are threadbare, but he’s written some dialogue that rings true. That stuff, in which a mother who’s just scraping by argues with her deeply skanky high-school daughter about the girl’s total lack of ambition, is the best part of the play, which opened Monday night Off-Off-Broadway.
It’s also the most affecting, in a sad play that bills itself as a dark comedy, getting only half that phrase right. Bridesburg, set in the Philadelphia riverfront neighborhood just south of the Northeast, is also about the girl’s 28-year-old brother, who lives at home, holds down a factory job (where did he get that these days?) and is about to become a father with the wife he’s brought to live there, too.
Kaufold quickly sets up a no-exit situation for the couple, who seem to be the focus of the piece. But he but gives them little to do, leaving all the action in the play to the other characters.
In Bridesburg, a so-so SoHo production staged by Miscreant Theatre company in the Gene Frankel Theatre, the playwright is aiming to explore the way the current American economy batters young people. More to the point, though, is the way Bridesburg defines a hopelessness that comes from constantly shut doors — and from people who believe there’s no sense in trying to open them.
If Kaufold had given us more of that meat to chew over, and characters whose frustrations we could more strongly grasp, Bridesburg would make a powerful statement. But they are too angry, or drunk, or angry and drunk, and his plot-driven play leaves no room for character development in 80 minutes.
It’s further weakened by an uneven production. Jack Young directs the drama in a large open space, and moves the characters awkwardly around the stage to needlessly convey a sense of hallways not physically there, at one point running two of them through those gyrations when it’s unclear why they’re in the house at all.
Two actors — Mizuo Peck as the young pregnant wife and Julian Joseph as a go-getter black high-school student on his way to college — convey a real sense of character. So does Susan Ferrara as the mother, but only toward the end.
Until then, her portrayal is stagy, as are those of Jeff Barry as the dad-to-be and, especially, Brianne Moncrief as his kid sister. Why the two of them play whites who speak in an urban black dialect (Kaufold’s writing) and accent (Young’s direction) is any disconcerted viewer’s guess, in Bridesburg or anywhere else.
Through Jan. 29 at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond St., New York. Tickets: $18. Information: www.miscranttheatre.org.