Stranded on Motor Parkway
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nytheatre.com review by Cory Conley
August 9, 2013
A scene from Stranded on Motor Parkway
Things just ain't what they used to be.
That would seem to be the mantra guiding most of the characters in Stranded on Motor Parkway, a new play by Dan Fingerman. The discontented Long Islanders on display here spend so much time rhapsodizing about the good old days that it can't help but bring to mind Keith Hernandez, the golden-gloved first baseman who played for the Mets during their championship 1986 season. A bit of a rebel at the time, Hernandez now sits as a color commenter for Mets TV broadcasts, where you can often hear his wry, disapproving take on how much better the game used to be. You know: the players are coddled, the umpires are too intrusive, and when did it all become about money? (Don't get him started on the expansion of interleague play.)
My baseball reference, by the way, is not entirely random. The 1986 Mets are very much on the mind of Johnny Frishetti, a 13 year-old boy at the center of Motor Parkway who follows the scrappy team with remarkable intensity. He's newly arrived in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, with his sister and dad, and while the circumstances of their move are anything but happy, Johnny takes comfort in the fact that the Mets have made it all the way to the World Series.
The play inhabits its decade, about as much as it possibly can. By the end of Motor Parkway, you'll have heard references to Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Polaroids, "The Goonies," AIDS, the Reagan Administration, and of course those hearty Mets, who show up in overheard TV clips. Fingerman, and his director Christina Roussos, have worked hard to immerse us in that era, and as far as they go, these period touches work perfectly fine. But ultimately, they fail to lift this domestic drama above the stock sentiments and conflicts that are all too familiar by now.
The story follows three generations of Frishettis--- "Pops," a retired veteran of WWII; his son, known as Junior; and young Johnny, who is staying, along with his father and older sister Angela, at Pops's house far out on Long Island. The move (from Queens) was prompted by the death of Johnny and Angela's mother, who suffered from--- well, a disease that dare not speak its name. Johnny doesn't love his new surroundings, and Angela really hates them; she can't wait to get to college--- maybe NYU--- as soon as possible. The fallout from Mom's death, and Junior's attempt to reconnect with his children, form the action of the play.
Several of the elements in this production are worthy of praise. The script includes admirably heartfelt moments between Johnny and Angela, and Fingerman has attempted to draw a three-dimensional portrait of the other people who inhabited this time and place, providing Junior with some drinking buddies who turn out to be more complex than they seem. The exposition is smartly revealed, particularly in a first-act scene where Johnny gives a "Current Events" report that turns heart-rendingly personal. And Briana Pozner, as Angela, gives a wonderfully earthy and understated performance, which often puts you squarely on her side.
But Motor Parkway often feels like more of an exercise in time travel than a fully realized play. I felt for Johnny and Angela, but I wasn't really sure what they wanted, aside from getting back to the city. (And presumably, Angela will go there as soon as she graduates.) A cliffhanger at the end of Act I breathes some new life into the story, but Act II gives up the game quickly. The scenes near the end of the play strike notes that feel familiar and somewhat unearned--- a monologue from Pops about meeting Grandma during the war, dispatches from the Mets-Red Sox series, and a cathartic speech from Junior about the events of the past decade that states the play's themes pretty bluntly. Johnny's baseball fixation reads as a typical boyhood quirk, and it never takes off as anything more than a framing device.
Fingerman tries to paint the struggle of one family against the backdrop of history. That's a daunting task, and Motor Parkway doesn't quite succeed at it. But with a more nuanced and original story, I wouldn't be at all surprised if his next play does.