DEATH IN THE CITY
nytheatre.com review by Hope Cartelli
While not an avid reader, I have
always been interested in the obituaries section of the New York
Times, and if there seems to be an interesting person’s life story
in miniature on any given day, I will gladly take the time to find out
more about them. This being the case, I was quite happy to check out No
Precedent Productions’ Death in the City, a smart and focused
dramatic improvisation piece that uses the Times’ obit section as
a springboard for every performance. The cast chooses the particular
obit to be used and recreates the deceased’s life right before the
August 15, 2002
The show starts outside the theatre. Copies of that day’s obituaries from the New York Times are handed out and a cutout of the obituary chosen for the performance is taped to the theatre’s door. The cast assumes the roles of the deceased and those mentioned in the obit as well as other characters conjured by the cast in the name of fleshing out the story. The subject at the performance I attended was Steven Yokich, a retired president of the United Automobile Workers union who died from a stroke at the age of 66.
Playing the obit as written, the cast effortlessly created union meetings, strikes, and golf outings and negotiations with industry honchos. But it was the slight takings of liberty that were the most interesting and effective. They seemed to have the most fun when hypothesizing moments out of Yokich’s youth, such as why he quit high school, and, later, his home life, including a funny, endearing scene of a younger Yokich waking up his teenage daughter at 4 a.m. to demand of her what ten things she hoped to accomplish that day. Comedic moments, while plentiful, are not the bread and butter of this group, and this cleared the path to making Yokich’s story even more real and making the case for the cast that they cared about their subject and how they presented him.
The tone of certain scenes touched on soap-operatic at times and reminded me of those biographies written for elementary school readers in their simplicity and utter sincerity. It didn’t matter a bit in the end: one reason there are obit enthusiasts is they simply enjoy a daily dose of lives of people they have never known delivered with some finesse. Death in the City successfully delivers that dose.