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Dan Cody’s Yacht

With a title taken from a subplot in "The Great Gatsby," this is a smart, new, literate play by Anthony Giardina, with many other literary references that help tell the story.

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Rick Holmes and Kristen Bush in a scene from Anthony Giardina’s “Dan Cody’s Yacht” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

With a title taken from a subplot in The Great Gatsby, Dan Cody’s Yacht is a smart, new, literate play by Anthony Giardina, with many other literary references that help tell the story. The play begins in a classroom, when Kevin O’Neill (played by Rick Holmes) is trying to bribe his son’s high-school English teacher to raise his grade from an “F” to a “D,” for his paper on Gatsby. But the “incorruptible” Cara (Kristen Bush) refuses the bribe and refuses to raise Conor’s grade. As Kevin himself says, “You’re finding me obnoxious, which I am.”

Both Kevin and Cara are single parents, which is only the beginning of the many parallels and contrasts at the heart of Dan Cody’s Yacht. Though it might come to seem overly formulaic, both the play and the production are good enough to rise above such a criticism. If Cara lives in the middle-income, fictional town of Patchett, and Kevin in the upscale, fictional town of Stillwell–“both towns in the far outer ring of suburbs around Boston,” as we’re told in a program note–she also teaches in Stillwell.

And if Kevin himself refers to his son as a “slacker,” Cara’s daughter, Angela, is presented as very bright: she’s even the “class poet,” at her high school in Patchett. And while Conor is reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved in school, Angela is reading To Kill a Mockingbird, prompting Cara to tell her friend Cathy, “You can’t go into a college interview with nothing more sophisticated to talk about than Atticus Finch.”

Rick Holmes, Jordan Lage, Meredith Forlenza, Kristen Bush and Laura Kai Chen in a scene from Anthony Giardina’s “Dan Cody’s Yacht” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

First and last, Dan Cody’s Yacht is about parents who are hoping their respective children will get into top colleges–in Conor’s case, to maintain his father’s lifestyle, and in Angela’s, to improve hers beyond her mother’s. But it also purports to be about the risks and rewards of investing in the stock market–entailing some shady practices.

Kevin is an investment advisor, who has clients over at his place for cheese and wine, every three weeks or so. These include Geoff (Jordan Lage), his wife Pamela (Meredith Forlenza), and Alice (Laura Kai Chen). Kevin also persuades Cara to let him invest what little savings she has, and he does well for her–at first. (He later refers to the “wild, uncertain world of the stock market.”) The plan is for Cara to rent a place in Stillwell, so Angela can transfer to school there, thereby improving her chances to get into a better school. (When Kevin tells Cara he’s hoping Conor will go to Harvard, all she can do is laugh at the prospect, given his poor study habits and grades.)

And then there are those literary references which keep on piling up, and very much define the differences between Stillwell and Patchett. As Cara says, sardonically, “Just wondering what radical choices Patchett High has made this year. What’s on [the reading list]–Old Yeller? Two Years Before the Mast?” There are even references to Salmon Rushdie, Walt Whitman, and short story writer Katherine Mansfield.

John Kroft and Casey Whyland in a scene from Anthony Giardina’s “Dan Cody’s Yacht” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

And there’s yet another subplot, for Stillwell and Patchett to merge, which Kevin attempts to foil. After eating at a restaurant at a mall in Stillwell with Cathy, Cara tells Angela, “Everything now is battle lines. I eat in Stillwell and it’s like I’m entertaining Nazis in occupied Paris.”

While depicting everything from a classroom and a Starbucks to Cara’s humble abode and Kevin’s more well-appointed home, John Lee Beatty’s set designs keep unfolding on a revolving stage. The spot-on costumes designed by Catherine Zuber help to define and delineate every character.

As directed with exactitude by Doug Hughes, the entire cast is giving a flawless performance, with Rick Holmes as the overly confident Kevin and Kristen Bush as the malleable Cara. Casey Whyland’s overweight Angela is not only as “tough as nails”–as Kevin says her character is–but she’s also compelling and sympathetic. John Kroft is equally sympathetic as slacker Conor who has his own agenda. And with her thick Boston accent, Roxanna Hope Radja’s Cathy is exactly as described in the script, as “more rough-hewn working class in manner and voice than Cara.”

Jen Schriever’s always evocative lighting design becomes like a ninth character in the play.

Dan Cody’s Yacht (through July 1, 2018)

Manhattan Theatre Club

New York City Center Stage I,131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.DanCodysYachtPlay.com

Running time: two hours and 20 minutes including an intermission

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David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (75 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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