Beloved television stars Harry Hamlin (L.A. Law) and Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart) return to the New York stage in Joshua Ravetch’s One November Yankee which they previously performed at the Delaware Theatre Company, and was initially seen in Los Angeles’ NoHo Arts Center Theatre in 2012. It is their star power which keeps this old-fashioned, rather sit-com-ish, interconnected triple bill as lively and as entertaining as it is despite clichéd writing and passé jokes. Playing three different sets of siblings all connected by one plane crash, they manage to be convincing in weak material.
Dana Moran Williams’ set is made up of a banana yellow Piper Cub two-seater plane with its nose face down and one wing at a strange angle as though it has crash landed. We later discover that the title refers to the plane’s registration number. The first play takes place at the Museum of Modern Art where conceptual artist Ralph Newman (Hamlin) is putting the finishing touches on his exhibit of the Piper Cub which he calls “Crumpled Plane” alongside of a fire extinguisher he has been painting, just before its official press opening.
With him is his sister Maggie Newman (Powers), a curator at the museum who has commissioned a work sight unseen and is now appalled at what he has come up with. It is inspired by a real story that Ralph read about in which a brother and sister on the way to their father’s second wedding in Florida traveling in such a plane crashed and disappeared in the New Hampshire mountains five years before and has not been located since. In answer to her question as to how to explain it to the press, he says facetiously that it represents “Civilization in Ruins.”
Although Ralph seems more of a playboy than a committed artist, Maggie reveals that he is “considered one of the top three modern artists in the world by every major critic outside of New York,” most likely meant as a dig at the professional art community. Coiffed in an uncredited wig which makes her look exactly like Anna Wintour, Maggie seems more a fashionista than an art historian with her worries about her lost Tiffany earring and her Cartier watch. She doesn’t know the artist Christopher Ofili whose painting “The Holy Virgin” uses elephant dung and is currently on display at MOMA. As in all three scenes, they bicker about their relationship, their estrangement for many years, her failed marriages, and trade insults and one-liners. Typical of the humor is the following exchange:
Ralph: “Keep your pants on, Mag.”
Maggie: “I don’t wear pants, Ralph.”
The second scene takes place five years earlier at the scene of the crash in New Hampshire. Sister Margo Preston (Powers in a new wig), the pilot, uses the fire extinguisher on the smoky plane while brother Harry (Hamlin, looking older than in the first scene) lies on the ground covered with blood, just like Ralph’s paint stained shirt in the first scene. It transpires that due to being told recently by her husband Jerry that he was leaving her, Margo has forgotten to fill the tank with gas, have the locator beacon reinstalled after repairs, or file a flight plan which was not required. They can’t get any reception on their cell phones as they are too far from civilization.
They are Jewish intellectuals, she is a librarian who has failed the bar exam six times, he is a writer who has just finished his first novel. They bicker about shared memories and how badly Margo has always treated Harry. However, as Harry appears to have a broken leg and they are pretty far up on the mountain, they will have a problem getting help. Harry comes up with a name for his untitled novel: A Very Troubled Journey with Very Unhappy Ending. While Hamlin and Powers create completely different characters from the first scene, their Jewish accents are not very believable.
Five years later, the third scene takes place the same month as the art show at MOMA in the opening sequence. Two hikers, brother Ronnie (Hamlin) and sister Mia (Powers), have stumbled on the site of the plane that we saw in the previous scene. They have lost an older brother Danny exactly 22 years ago in another plane crash caused by pilot error which has affected both of their lives. Like the son of curator Margo in the first scene, Ronnie is a dentist who never pleased their father who wanted a lawyer for a son, while Mia has failed marriages, just like Margo and Maggie. Although Ronnie accuses Margo of having abandoned him and their father after Danny’s death, they both agree that they have bonded on this hike in the New Hampshire woods.
An ironic final scene lets us know how the critics reviewed Ralph’s show, as well as the report of the found plane. Aside from the Piper Cub plane which remains a visual constant, running gags attempting to link the plays include the conceptual artist Kantano, trips to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, Hirschfeld cartoons, “catching hypothermia” and tropical fish. Hamlin and Powers who have extensive theater credits including New York have tremendous stage presence and carry the play although the repetitious gags and same set become a bit tiresome. Time has been kind to them as they don’t look a day older than you remember them from their hit television series.
Kate Bergh’s costumes for the three scenes are suitable different , although in the first one Ralph and Maggie are dressed more like jet setters than as art bohemians. The uncredited video projections of various scenes of planes, both documentary footage and clips from famous films, are unnecessary but cover the transitions between scenes, giving the actors time to change their costumes. The sound design by Lucas Campbell includes well-known songs about planes you would expect like “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Not following the dictum that playwrights should not direct their own shows, Ravetch has staged the scenes in rather static fashion. However, Harry Hamlin and Stefanie Powers are so accomplished at repartee that they keep the play moving despite the fact that they don’t move much in each scene.
One November Yankee (through December 29, 2019)
Delaware Theatre Company
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-892-7999 or visit http://www.59E59.org
Running time: one hour and 35 minutes with no intermission