New York brings the ugly and the resplendent out of people in equal measure. Kicking off its inaugural year, the Tribeca Theater Festival celebrates this phenomenon with an evening of shorts in which nine playwrights and 10 actors capture this town’s metaphysical ambivalence—with the loving touch of true believers.
The Downtown Plays‘ first half shows us at our most unscrupulous: Characters resent each other’s success, exploit loved ones, and sacrifice honor for “art.” The desperation grows more poignant with Jon Robin Baitz’s My Beautiful Goddamn City, a moving distillation of the evening’s themes. Julie White and Maria Tucci play sisters—and Tribeca residents—reuniting after 9-11 to hash out the options available to grieving liberals. They come to an impasse as they face the eternal New York question: “When do I jump ship?” With his subtle yet lightning-fast character shifts, Baitz compresses more pathos and laughter into 10 minutes than most playwrights can in an hour.
The second half pays homage to New York archetypes. Jackie Hoffman parodies a kvetchy Jewish mother in Paul Rudnick’s hilarious Pride and Joy. Shoulders shrugged, she soliloquizes over her brood of transgendered children. Proud of her own tolerance (“You want a vagina?” she says to her son. “Here’s the Visa!”), she still struggles to be fully accepting. But a midnight epiphany reminds her that her children have found love—manna in a city of hungry souls.