nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 11, 2006
Matt Hoverman's new play In Transit has a very neat structure—eight characters are introduced in five vignettes that almost feel like linked one-act plays, and then brought together in a sixth centerpiece scene that completes most of their stories. (There's also a brief final scene and then an epilogue after that.) It's a nifty storytelling concept.
But unfortunately the stories Hoverman has chosen to tell are either dull and predictable or glib and clichéd. When two middle-aged Harvard men have an impromptu reunion on the Hampton jitney, it's obvious from the first minute what direction their meeting will ultimately take. When two receptionists gossip about the affair that one of their husbands had, there's never any doubt who he had the affair with. And when a fanatic fundamentalist Christian from the American Heartland commandeers a cabbie named Mohammed to take her on a trip, although the place she asks him to take her proves unexpected, her stereotyped depiction as an ignorant arch-conservative addicted to Fox News and TV preachers is nothing if not trite and hackneyed.
Worse, it skirts the very real and important issues that Hoverman seems to want to confront in his script. In a program note the playwright asserts that he's a member of the "liberal elite," but throughout In Transit, he resorts to the tactics of his opponents, tactics he claims to disavow. All of the characters are stereotypes, from the aforementioned red-state right-winger to the simple-minded immigrant cab driver to the New York-Jewish receptionists who spew brand names and pronounce the last syllable of "kreplach" with the hardest CCCCCCHHHHHHHH sound you ever heard. There's also a Russian supermodel who's addicted to cocaine and money; an egocentric performance artist who does "tribute solo shows" to Spalding Gray; and a mean-mouthed entrepreneur who gets caught stealing from clients' 401(k) plans. Hoverman doesn't investigate these characters or try to figure out what makes any of them tick; he uses them as a cheap shorthand to get laughs at their expense (often with surprisingly coarse jokes) and to push some post-9/11 buttons in the minds of his audience. The play is, finally, an insult to liberal thinkers who actually think; and it's also very sloppy playwriting—particularly in the climactic sequence, in which all of the characters converge on an airplane, in a scene that veers from broad comedy to absurdism to faux-sentimental-Touched By An Angel melodrama, often in the space of a single line of dialogue.
Padraic Lillis directs the piece at a swift pace and the ten actors play what they've been given, with Debargo Sanyal particularly funny as Mo the cabbie (we almost forget how offensively the character has been written). But Hoverman's script sinks In Transit: it's an embarrassing example of everything that's wrong with discourse in the United States these days, mired as it is in false assumptions, bigoted stereotypes, and a crass post-modern sensibility that says that if nothing has any value then everything can be mocked. That kind of dangerous thinking made pundits say that there was no difference between Bush and Gore in the 2000 election. Does the "liberal elite" really believe that today?