Every once in a while, an off-off-Broadway limited-run showcase production jumps up and reminds you that there is some really good Theatre happening up and down the side streets of Manhattan.
Tucked into a tidy performance space on West 36th Street, The Golden Year, Daniel Damiano’s 90-minute comedy-with-substance, impeccably acted by Gerry Goodstein and Ellen Barry, is one such example. The Play’s two-fold premise combines a newly-retired couple’s financial disaster with the wife’s journey of self-discovery through, of all things, a role in a community theater play.
Joe is content to sit around (“It’s the privilege of retirement”), but Jean becomes restless (“It’s called discontent, Joe.”) and finds an outlet as the mother in a play in their Long Island town.
It’s not easy for an accomplished actor to play a novice who screws up lines and ‘indicates’ everything, as in pointing up to locate the sky, but professional Barry ramps her considerable talent down to amateur Jean’s level, and the result is not only very funny, it’s also quite poignant. Joe is no slouch either. His awkwardness helping Jean learn her lines morphs into immersion in the process, with Goodstein’s Joe growing into it with comic self-assurance. (“I could play this role!”) There’s also an effective bit by Joseph Franchini as the off-stage director of Jean’s play.
The parallel plotline concerns the couple’s victimization in a Ponzi scheme, a life-altering misfortune that both actors resist overplaying in favor of subtle reality. Goodstein makes Joe’s embarrassment at having been ‘taken’ by a supposed friend heart-wrenching and Barry finds in Jean a heart-warming font of devotion despite her disappointment.
Kathy Gail MacGowan’s direction keeps the play in motion even when it isn’t. There’s only so much ‘action’ possible on a small set dominated by two lounge chairs, but this 40-year married couple’s loving relationship (I believed it) creates a vibrant, palpable current between them – and between Damiano’s play and the audience.
Through June 29 at WorkShop Theater Company, 312 West 36th Street, NYC. Performances Thurs at 7pm; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 3pm; and Mon June 24 at 7. For information and tickets ($18; Students/seniors $15): online at www.workshoptheater.org or at 866-811-4111 [The actors and the director of “The Golden Year” are Actors Equity Association members.]