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Pillars of New York

In this maudlin musical, a smarmy psychiatrist, his female assistant and his group therapy patients are caught up in the events of 9/11.

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A scene from “Pillars of New York” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

A scene from “Pillars of New York” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Pillars of New York is an amateurish and maudlin musical that has its collection of stock characters caught up in the events and aftermath of 9/11.  The action takes place on the day before, that day, and five years later.

Two-thirds into the show the attack occurs and the cast freezes in silence as red light bathes the stage.  This potentially powerfully simple rendering is undermined as the sequence is followed by slide projections of pictures of the attack and afterward.  Considering the feeble previous storyline, this comes across as gratuitous.

Jake (Brandon Schraml) is a smarmy psychiatrist whose office is near The Twin Towers.  His stalwart young assistant Wendy (Georgia Sackler) is helping him by transcribing the notes of his group therapy sessions for a book he is writing.  Jake intends to simply change the names of his patients to mask that he is actually stealing their life stories.  During the show we mostly meet the patients and their spouses, some of whom work at The World Trade Center.

There is the Jewish widow Rachel (Audrey Federici). She makes rugelach and blintzes and is in therapy to grapple with her finance worker son being gay.  There are also three young heterosexual married couples that have their various relationship problems.  Besides being connected by the location of their jobs, several of them are linked due to infidelity.

Michael Antin’s trite book establishes his characters with the superficial tone of a 1970’s disaster movie.  Their traits and predicaments are slickly presented as we wait for the inevitable catastrophe.

Tyler Knauf and Audrey Federici in a scene from “Pillars of New York” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Tyler Knauf and Audrey Federici in a scene from “Pillars of New York” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

The score that Mr. Antin composed and wrote the lyrics for is a serviceable collection of songs that could possibly have succeeded in a show about the conflicts among married couples.  Wedged into a dramatization of a horrendous historical event, they’re hollow and rarely achieve other then a filler quality.

In a big number near the beginning of the show, tourists and office workers are riding the subway before getting out and sing:

Another morning on the subway track 

Clickity clack subway track

Clickity clickity clickity clack

Clickity clack subway track

Clickity clack subway track

This get repeated several times along with gems such as: 

Packed in like a sardine.

I’ve had not time for caffeine.

It bores into my skull

Till my senses are dull 

Clearly we’re far from the craft of Bernstein and Comden & Green’s Wonderful Town. 

The energetic and charming cast also includes Tyler Knauf, Jack Utrata, Nikki Casseri, Alex Lamb, Laura Kaldis, Max Meyers, Cruz Santiago, and April Leonhard.

A scene from “Pillars of New York” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

A scene from “Pillars of New York” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Director Jim Blanchette’s staging resourcefully makes use of the confined space, gracefully maneuvering the large ensemble around.  Mr. Blanchette has paced this material as well as possible and his work with the actors ranges from solid characterizations to occasional stridency.

Genevieve Estanislau’s choreography is basic. Musical Director Rocco Vitacco’s skillful musicianship on keyboard is a great asset.

Samantha Figueira’s scenic design has a number of white chairs and simple furnishings amidst the screen projection panels.  Tim Secrest’s accomplished audiovisual design includes representative New York City shots.  The sound design by Jessica Davison and Jennifer Davison and John B. Forbes’ lighting design proficiently add to the production’s presentational qualities.  Hunter Dowell’s costume design consists of functional contemporary attire.

Pillars of New York was first performed earlier this year in Los Angeles with a different cast and is now having its New York City premiere.  Though its intentions are noble, its execution is woefully inadequate.

Pillars of New York (through September 7, 2016)

Write Act Repertory

St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.pillarsofny.org

Running time: one hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (618 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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