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Underground

A trite, meet-cute situation is made fascinating with insightful conversation, intriguing situations and the author’s clear empathy with her characters.

Michael Jinks and Bebe Sanders in a scene from “Underground” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

59E59, the place to go for British theater, is presenting yet another new British play, a charming romantic comedy/drama, Underground, written by Isla van Tricht and directed by Kate Tiernan.

Two likeable people, James (Michael Jinks) and Claire (Bebe Sanders) meet online, have dinner in a local pub owned by Steve (Andrew McDonald) and take the Underground home. That’s about it.

Of course, that’s only the basic, very basic, outline. What makes Underground a quiet delight is the way van Tricht takes this trite situation and beefs it up with insightful conversation, intriguing situations that border on the fantastic and a clear empathy with her characters.

The play opens with a too-cute voiceover urging the audience members to become acquainted with each other, further insisting we turn off our mobile phones and “mind the gap.” This voiceover also makes all the various announcements once the characters are on their commuter train, often alluding in strange, dreamy ways to what’s going on in the characters’ minds.

We are introduced to the two thirty-somethings, watching them repeatedly going through their a.m. rituals, checking their phones, indicating just how unfulfilled their lives have been.

Bebe Sanders, Andrew McDonald and Michael Jinks in a scene from “Underground” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

James speaks first, then Claire, each revealing the longings and dreams that never have been requited. James tries to compare himself to each of the characters from The Breakfast Club, further musing about which character finds the most personal success while Claire sadly ponders her youthful successes that didn’t pan out.

Handsome James and lovely Claire individually swipe through the Tinder and happn apps, commenting sardonically on the registrants, finally settling on each other, a decision that evolves into a date.

Their date goes well even with garrulous Steve chiming in with bits about his family. The two daters wander onto the night train where they are stranded and have to get to know each other better, which they do, flirting as well as revealing their fears. James invites Claire home, that is, if the night train ever gets going.

Much to Claire’s chagrin, James reveals that he has recently ended a long term relationship, but he woos her with the possibility of playing some of his songs for her. They flirt, banter, then kiss and eventually fall asleep while waiting for the train to move again.

Van Tricht never overplays her hand. The conversations are realistic, profane and honest, yet tinged with mystery around the edges. Even Steve, the restaurant owner, makes a strange reappearance as a wise, experienced old passenger on the night train who manages to confuse the new couple with his fuzzy-headed conversation.

Michael Jinks in a scene from “Underground” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Will their new relationship blossom? Only the voiceover knows.

All three actors are fine, giving detailed characterizations of couple discovering a fondness for each other and the extra character who helps them along.

No design credits are given, but the set of plain looking benches, constantly rearranged to suit the locale and the comfortable everyday clothing makes the dialogue easier to concentrate on. Jude Oberműller’s incidental music and sound design also helps define place and character.

Tiernan has a keen sense of timing and flow, never rushing the actors, making the most of pauses and knowing just how to wrap it all up at the end.

Underground (through July 2, 2017)
2017 Brits Off Broadway Festival
Shrapnel Theatre & Hartshorn-Hook Foundation, in association with Andy Thick
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59E59.org
Running time: one hour and 10 minutes with no intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (226 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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