If the film, fiction, and photography of the period offer an accurate portrayal, New York in the 1970s was not a nice place to live. Unless you were a slumlord. Or a crime reporter. Or a subway rat. Little Doc—documentary filmmaker Dan Klores’s playwriting debut, set in 1975 Brooklyn during the sixth game of the World Series—only confirms this dystopic view. Its signal event consists of a birthday party featuring refreshments such as coke, scag, 100 Quaaludes, numerous betrayals, brutal beatings, and an uneaten Carvel ice cream cake.
David Rockwell’s marvelously detailed set, which includes niceties such as an eye-gouging
wallpaper pattern and a Barry Goldwater poster, separates the stage into two distinct playing spaces. Downstairs, bookie Weasel (Steven Marcus) and tough guy Manny (Dave Tawil) confer in the Birdsnest bar, while overhead, at the party in the fourth-floor apartment, Weasel’s son Ric (Adam Driver) and his friends succumb to pharmaceuticals and mutual reproach. A soured drug deal sends characters pounding up and down the stairs.
As the description of the birthday party suggests, Klores packs ample incident—and substance abuse—into this 90-minute play, though he and director John Gould Rubin don’t involve the audience much in the action. The cast attempts a gritty sort of hypernaturalism—snorting, vomiting, boogying to “Higher and Higher”—but the actorly success is as variable as the Brooklyn accents.
The last third of the play is very nearly compelling, yet Klores’s storytelling skills seem more suited to the cinema than the theater. While some archival footage or a montage might have communicated backstory effectively, Klores is left instead with haphazard exposition and overwrought monologues. Instead of jump-cuts between separate conversations at the party, characters talk over one another. For a rookie playwright, Klores shows some promise—still, it’s a relief to exit his play and emerge into the Gotham of the present.