Saturday, January 4, 2014

"The Commons of Pensacola" is Worth a Second Look.

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).

In The Commons of Pensacola, Becca and Gabe have ostensibly come to visit Becca's mother, Judith, for Thanksgiving, but it is revealed early on that they have an underlying motive -- to convince Judith to participate in a documentary television show in which she would publicly apologize to her husband's victims for his crimes, despite her own lack of knowledge of his financial misconduct. Also visiting for Thanksgiving is Becca's brash 16-year-old niece, Lizzy, with whom Becca at first seems to have a silly and juvenile relationship with. Enter Becca's sister, Ali, who is convinced that Judith knew more than she admitted to when she testified in the criminal proceedings. Ali has therefore not spoken to her mother in months, though Becca had steadfastly stood by their mother. When Judith has a medical scare, Ali temporarily puts her quarrel with Judith aside and hurries to Florida. Ali is shocked to find Lizzy at the condo, as the teenager had told her mother that she was traveling with friends for the Thanksgiving holiday. However, still convinced that Judith is hiding assets, Ali turns her attention on that and goes rampaging through the condo looking for evidence. Throughout the familial struggle that unfolds on stage, the maid, Lorena, offers both serious and comedic interludes as she tries to assist Judith with some confusing and complicated medical regiments. The resulting interplay of the characters, their emotions, suspicions, and seductions, is startling.

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.


  1. WGINY is always so informative about events, shows and restaurants in NYC. Your passionate reviews about them make these places a "must see for those with a zest for adventure".

  2. Since I am traveling to New York City this summer, I have been looking around online for some things to do while I'm there, and this looks like something that I should check out since my girlfriend wanted to see a play. One of the first things that we are doing is taking a New York bus tour so we can see a lot of the city while not walking around too much.


  4. Thanks for the praise, Anonymous! My goal is to get the word out about all the great opportunities that New York has to offer.
    Chase Howard - Thanks for reading! Seems like a good tour. I hope you and your friend enjoy it. "The Commons of Pensacola" is a great play to check out while you are here. If you want any other tips on what to do, see or eat in NYC, feel free to drop me a line at