Do people still eat black and white cookies? They have been making a comeback, it seems, but as half-moon pastries, a name that playwright Gary Morgenstein would find metaphorically useless because the two protagonists of his play A Black and White Cookie at the Tank Theater are older gentlemen, one Black and the other a non-religious Jew.
Harold (Russell Jordan), upper middle-aged and Black, runs a much-beloved neighborhood newsstand but is facing eviction by a large corporation run by J.N. Pham (Marina Rebecca Chan).
Newsstand regular and neighborhood denizen, Albie (J. Dolan Byrnes), senior citizen and dyed in the wool old-fashioned left winger, is outraged that Harold’s newsstand is to become yet another victim of corporate America’s greed and lack of conscience. He ritually relies upon Harold for his free day-old New York Times and a turkey sandwich. Albie will not allow for this stand, a symbol of neighborhood stability, to disappear.
Albie rallies a reluctant Harold to protest his eviction, but Harold runs into a major problem with his hidebound niece Carol (Roslyn Seale) who holds deep anti-Semitic feelings since her dad was, she feels, poorly represented by a Jewish lawyer.
Cookie follows the rancorous, hate- and prejudice-filled back and forth among all the characters who also include Mitchell (Matt Provenza), a young City official sent to help Harold.
In this barebones production where the set consists of black crates, boards and chairs, the talented actors turn the small stage into a battlefield of conflicting interests.
Immediately Albie gets the news that the Harold Newsstand will be no more, his deep-seated left wing, 1960’s habits are renewed as are stories of confronting police in demonstrations and expressions of admiration for Ho Chi Minh, Castro and others. He’s wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, for goodness sake! He is obnoxious, loud, but determined and finally wins over the recalcitrant Harold who, in his heart, knows that the newsstand represents the best in him.
Harold, a Vietnam vet, had planned to move to Florida with his niece, Carol, but decides to delay this move until he finds out if he can keep his business into which he has poured a good chunk of his life. He has even saved the front page of every New York Post from his very first day, accumulating thousands of them in cartons his niece is reluctant to transport to Florida. Adding to his lack of willingness to cave in is the fact that he owns his own home, decrepit as it might be, and feels attached to it.
Carol, knowing that Harold is a Mets fan, has bought a subscription to a cable TV service that will allow him to keep up with his favorite baseball team, but then she hears of Albie’s interference with her plans for her uncle which includes his signing an agreement proffered by the real estate company to compensate him in the amount of twenty-five thousand dollars. His determination to stay would derail that windfall.
Carol’s bigotry knows no bounds. “Asians are just Jews with better noses,” she expounds when she hears that her uncle’s protest is being led by the Jew, Albie. She believes that her father was screwed by a Jewish lawyer causing him to lose his business and commit suicide. Her bitterness is palpable.
Albie’s behavior throughout is exaggeratedly clichéd, including old-fashioned anti-establishment chants and bold signs with “hell, no, we won’t go” in bold letters. Albie has a secret that might explain the reason for his desperation.
The chips fall into place by the end of A Black and White Cookie, perhaps a bit too smoothly, but the path to the ending is well constructed and fascinating.
Morgenstein has caught the nuances of each character and his dialogue rings true particularly as inhabited by these five actors who are ably directed by Marcello Rollando who quite wittingly provides the play-by-play radio commentary of the Mets games which Harold listens to throughout the story.
Refreshingly, none of the actors are amplified and their voices are easily heard and understood.
A Black and White Cookie (through July 28, 2022)
The Tank Theater, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.thetanknyc.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission