Actress Amanda Peet has taken her first foray into full-length playwriting with The Commons of Pensacola, currently featured at New York City Center, on the Manhattan Theatre Club Stage. The Commons of Pensacola examines the twisted dynamics of a somewhat broken family following the downfall of its patriarch, who had perpetrated a wide-ranging fraudulent financial scheme on innocent investors. Sound familiar? Though it is initially confusing when the play commences, the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together as you realize whose story you are watching, with the inspiration for the characters apparently coming from none other than the family of one Bernie Madoff.
Despite less than glowing reviews from Variety and Daily News, I am more apt to agree with the NY Times that The Commons of Pensacola is full of "rich material" performed in "excellent form". The set is a retirement condo in Pensacola, and the design by Santo Loquasto impeccably captures the atmosphere of the "active adult" residence that is so commonplace in Florida. Veteran actors Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker command the stage as "Judith," the seemingly frail, aging wife, and "Becca," the slightly misguided daughter, of an unnamed white collar criminal who never appears on stage, yet is the central focus of the play. Blythe Danner transcends into her character's spacey, kooky moments just as simply and naturally as her more calculated ones, and her performance is both raw and melancholy. Ironically, and perhaps not surprisingly, Sarah Jessica Parker, whose character is a struggling 43-year-old actress, commences her role with a bit too much overacting, but her expressive outbursts fit her character by the play's resolution. Also appearing in the cast are Michael Stahl-David as Becca's young boyfriend, "Gabe," Ali Marsh as Becca's sister, "Ali," Zoe Levin as Becca's niece, and Ali's daughter, "Lizzy," and Nilaja Sun, as "Lorena," Judith's maid and caretaker. Keep your eye on Zoe Levin, a New York stage newcomer who demonstrates an adept acting talent and is surely a star on the rise. (Levin had a highly regarded supporting role in the 2013 film, The Way Way Back, though I have not seen the movie yet).
The Commons of Pensacola opened in November and runs through January 26. Individual tickets for the limited engagement are currently sold out, but you can still attend by joining Manhattan Theatre Club. According to the show's playbill, "MTC" is currently celebrating its 43rd anniversary season "as one of the country's leading nonprofit producers of contemporary theatre." MTC's Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow, who also served as Director for The Commons of Pensacola, has been overseeing productions at MTC for more than 40 years.
All photos for this post are courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club.