David Hyde Pierce taking off his suit trousers to practice on a Djembe drum in his boxer shorts is one of many hilarious bits that are meshed with drama in The Visitor. It’s a faithful, resonant and well-done musical adaptation of the acclaimed 2007 independent film of the same title. Book writers Kwame Kwei-Armah and Brian Yorkey stick closely to director/screenwriter Thomas McCarthy’s original vision while skillfully translating it to the stage.
Connecticut-resident Walter Vale is a weary local college economics professor, morose since his wife’s death. He reluctantly agrees to go to Manhattan to present a paper by an indisposed colleague at an academic conference. He is shocked to find that the apartment he rents there but rarely visits is inhabited by a young couple who have been conned by a man posing as the rightful tenant and sublet it to them. They are musician Tarek, a Syrian born but long-time U.S. denizen, and Zainab, a Senegalese jewelry designer. Feeling sorry for them, Walter lets them stay, and bonds are formed. Nirvana is shattered by an interaction with New York City police officers where we learn that the couple is undocumented.
This is the fourth collaboration of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team of Next to Normal made up of writer Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt. Mr. Yorkey’s sharp lyrics artfully convey exposition and character’s thoughts. Matched with Mr. Kitt’s punchy music, their efforts yield fine contemporary musical theater songs. However, a near closing anthem goes overboard on preachiness.
Venerable director Daniel Sullivan’s smooth, swift and inventive staging fully realizes the material. This achievement is aided by David Zinn’s superior scenic design with its representative elements on tracks which seamlessly connote transitions and differing locales. That’s assisted by Mr. Zinn’s corrugated black walls on which David Bengali and Hana S. Kim’s video design of aesthetic imagery is projected, taking us all over New York City. Lighting designer Japhy Weideman and sound designer Jessica Paz and Sun Hee Kil’s contributions are highly polished. Costume designer Toni-Leslie James provides a perfect range of everyday garments for each character.
Mr. Pierce’s renowned comedic and dramatic talents are exhibited here in the leading role of Walter. Pierce’s evolvement from chilly to warm is a major facet of his enthralling performance. The personable Ahmad Maksoud’s Tarek is a heroic everyman. As Zainab, Alysha Deslorieux winningly veers from feisty to tender. Jacqueline Antaramian’s rich portrayal of Mouna, Tarek’s complex mother, combines resilience with warmth. The appealing ensemble play a variety of roles while performing Lorin Latarro’s forceful choreography, adding liveliness to the presentation.
With its perennial device of the curmudgeon redeemed and a topical poignant plot, The Visitor is thoughtful entertainment.
The Visitor (extended through December 5, 2021)
The Public Theater
Newman Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call (212) 967-7555 or visit http://www.publictheater.org
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission