nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
October 27, 2007
Not many New York theatres have presented work about the continued ramifications of the World Trade Center attacks, or the radically different world that we live in since September 11, 2001. But the Transport Group and director Jack Cummings III seemed to be up for the task with Crossing Brooklyn. This new musical claims to deal "with the emotional aftermath of 9/11 in New York" (according to the press release), but sadly amounts to an indulgent stand-still of a story that lacks actual insight into post-9/11 life.
With music by Jenny Giering and book and lyrics by Laura Harrington, Crossing Brooklyn follows Des and AJ, a young couple living in Brooklyn whose marriage is on the rocks due to Des's traumatic memories of 9/11. Both NYC grade-school teachers, AJ has gone back to teaching and encourages Des to re-sign her contract as well. But Des can barely step outside the house without collapsing, recalling the pressures of caring for her first grade kids with the Twin Towers crumbling nearby. While AJ goes on with his life, Des struggles to overcome her phobias and to interact with the supportive folks in her neighborhood.
The New York theatre scene needs stories that explore the aftermath of 9/11, but what makes Crossing Brooklyn such a letdown is that it doesn't really explore. Instead, it stagnantly reiterates its premise in every song and scene: Des is scared, AJ is frustrated, and the marriage used to be better. Far from being a compelling character study, we never get far into AJ's unhappiness or Des's psychosis. In fact, Des's fear of going outside and recurring self-doubts could be applied to many traumatic events. Rather than addressing symptoms that frequently arose among New Yorkers after 9/11, the show seems to present Des as having post-traumatic stress syndrome that might be aided with the help of a psychiatrist. (Strangely, getting her a doctor doesn't seem to occur to anyone.)
It's bad enough that Crossing Brooklyn hits the same notes figuratively, but it hits the same ones literally as well. The songs are indistinguishable from one another, not only because the score flows seamlessly from one tune to the next, but because the pop-ballad melodies all follow the same sweeping, melodramatic lines. Luckily, Jenny Fellner as Des and Bryce Ryness as AJ not only have a sweet and believable rapport, but they have lovely and strong voices, making the repetitive score more enjoyable.
The supporting cast also provides pleasant harmonies and, like Fellner and Ryness, admirable attempts to make the one-dimensional personalities multi-faceted. Ken Triwush and Jason F. Williams are endearing as two Italian café owners who flirt with and comfort Des, and Blythe Gruda instills dignity into a librarian who tempts AJ from his wife. Clayton Dean Smith, as the crazy-homeless-guy-who-teaches-Des-a-lesson, does well to give the cliché a little subtlety. But as a precocious student that AJ mentors, J. Bradley Bowers steals the show by endowing the stale wiser-than-all-the-adults character with sardonic spunk and genuine repressed grief.
Because there is no real movement in the story, the pizzazz in Cummings's staging feels familiar and overblown. The supporting cast repetitively echoes key lines in suffering tones, and fluidly drifts on and off the stage like anonymous ghosts to shift Sandra Goldmark's minimal set (nine desks and several ropes that drop from the ceiling, used to create a "maze” of sorts). Combined with the sensational lighting, which frequently morphs from bold colors to stark shadows, the staging seems to be trying to make up for emotional content that is not there.
Maybe it's not there because Crossing Brooklyn fails to provide specificity to the very particular circumstance in which it is set. At its end, Crossing Brooklyn comes dangerously close to reducing the immensity and tragedy of the WTC attacks to the generic backdrop for the sluggish story of a-marriage-on-the-rocks.