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Cardinal

Greg (“Slowgirl”, “Kid Victory”) Pierce’s latest play is a satire on the hot button topics of urban renewal, Chinese entrepreneurs, racism and amateurs in politics.

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Anna Chlumsky and Adam Pally in a scene from Greg Pierce’s “Cardinal” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Lydia Lensky returns to her hometown in upstate New York which she left to go to college and then unsuccessfully managed bands in Brooklyn. She finds the town is economically depressed ever since the axle factory closed and much of the population has left. Too many stores are now empty. Having known Jeff Torm, the young new mayor in high school, she approaches him with a great idea. Paint a six block section of the downtown cardinal red and make the town a tourist destination. She knows of a popular location that is all blue in Morocco and one that is all yellow in Mexico.

Although a referendum passes, not all members of the town are on board with the idea. The results are at first terrific but then the unintended consequences kick in like the old shopowners are moving out to allow for the new start-up businesses. Even Lydia is not happy with the new red bus tours which are telling entirely untrue stories about the town’s heritage. Eventually the battlelines are drawn over the historic axle factory: what should be done with it and its past?

Greg Pierce, the author of Slowgirl and Kid Champion, has often tackled hot button issues. Here in Cardinal being given its world premiere at Second Stage Theater, he takes on urban renewal, Chinese entrepreneurs, racism and amateurs in politics, all worthy of investigation, in comic fashion. However, in this satire his plot seems to reinvent itself in every other scene, with twists and turns you can’t see coming. The three sets of characters (Lydia and Jeff, Nancy and Nat Prenchel, owners of the Bread & Button Bakery, and Chinese businessman Li-Wei Chen and his son Jason) seem totally separate until he brings them together in a rather improbable finale. He also loads the deck with such plot complications as Lydia and Jeff beginning an affair (as she looks so much like her sister who he dated in high school and hasn’t gotten over.)

Becky Ann Baker and Alex Hurt in a scene from Greg Pierce’s “Cardinal” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

The fact that Lydia has never practiced urban planning and that the new mayor has little or no experience may be a subtle dig at the administration in Washington with all its novices and newcomers, but it should raise red flags from the beginning. Lydia is also not trusted by the community for a protest she made in high school which resulted in a generator blowing up and the town losing power for seven hours. Not someone you would trust with the welfare of your town. On the other hand, recent elected officials have won with little or no experience. However, Pierce’s play while comic seems scattershot and unfocused.

Director Kate Whoriskey keeps thing moving along but doesn’t always keep the characters from seeming likeclichés and stereotypes. Anna Chlumsky, five-time Emmy nominee for Veep, is bubbly and spirited as Lydia but she seems more than a little naïve and innocent. She proves a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. As the young mayor who still holds a torch for her sister, Adam Pally, star of the television seriesThe Mindy Project, Making History and Happy Endings, captures the melancholy and inexperience of youth while at the same time being a little bit too credulous and unsophisticated.

Becky Ann Baker as the long-term owner of Bread & Buttons Bakery and Alex Hurt as her mentally-challenged son are much more grounded but they seem to be in an entirely different play. As the Chens, businessmen from Manhattan’s Chinatown who see an opportunity to exploit, Stephen Park and Eugene Young are just this side of stereotypes.

Eugene Young, Stephen Park and Anna Chlumsky in a scene from Greg Pierce’s “Cardinal” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Derek McLane’s clever brick walls and arches serve well for the Mayor’s office, the high school gymnatorium, the Bread & Buttons Bakery, an office in Chinatown, and ultimately the derelict and abandoned factory.  Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting design emphasizing the theme by adding more and more red lighting as the play goes on. The costumes by Jennifer Moeller have the lived in look of contemporary clothing the cast might own. J. David Brimmer is responsible for the play’s one fight sequence.

Greg Pierce’s Cardinal takes on a great many important issues of our time. Entertaining and wry, it is also meandering and not entirely believable. The bright cast led by television stars Anna Chlumsky and Adam Pally directed by Kate Whoriskey works hard to put over this new play which will probably get better in its future productions. 

Cardinal (through February 25, 2018)

Second Stage Theater

Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-246-4422 or visit http://www.2st.com

Running time: one hour and 30 minutes with no intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (487 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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