Al's Business Cards
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 9, 2009
But that�s when I realized that this is the way the world works, y�know? You, you, you sneeze and a person dies. You leave your book on the bus, and a war breaks out! I mean if one thing leads to another, how can you do anything? How can you get up in the morning, say hi to someone, eat a meal? I move my hand this way, somewhere a kid starts crying! So of course life is monotonous!
This little bit of philosophy is the center of Josh Koenigsberg's delightful new play Al's Business Cards. The really good news is that the play is a comedy—a very funny one, in fact; sort of what would happen if La Ronde were a farce and not about sex—and so the philosophizing is very much incidental to the warm-hearted good spirits that pervade this charmer. Directed by Lauren Keating with a sure hand, this is one of the nicest surprises of the summer.
The chain of events that propel Al's Business Cards begins on a film set in New Jersey, where two of the assistant gaffers, Al and Barry, are munching on snacks during a break. Al says to Barry, "I tell you I got business cards?....They say 'Al Gurvis, Professional Gaffing Assistant'.�
Barry, like us, thinks this seems pretty silly. Why didn't Al at least write "Electrician" on the cards? But Al is undaunted in his plans to move ahead in the business world. Except that the cards don't arrive as scheduled. Instead, Al's cards say "Eileen Lee � Executive Realtor" on them. The printer made a mistake. Al calls Eileen instead of the printer to try to arrange a swap, and the game, as they say, is on. What follows is a succession of scenes built on bad ideas and misapprehensions that escalate and involve—in addition to Al, Barry, and Eileen—Daniel, who is Eileen's estranged husband, and Jose Alvarez, a private detective working for Daniel to help him discredit Eileen at their divorce hearing.
I don't want to give away how the story spirals quickly into inspired craziness. I will mention that real estate, gaffing, gassers, the Mets, a pair of suits from Men's Wearhouse, and Alcoholics Anonymous all somehow figure prominently. There's also a banana pastry at a Starbucks at the center of one sight gag, and some flying bags of chips at the play's climax. (If you're seated in the front rows, consider yourself warned.)
Koenigsberg's characters are badly flawed and goofy as all get-out, but he has written them with so much affection (matched, beautifully, by the cast's performances) that we love them and root for them, warts and all. Along the way, they offer some potent commentary on the shallow manner in which we judge each other (especially based on names, skintones, and the like) and, as already mentioned, on what Rowan and Martin used to call the Fickle Finger of Fate.
Azhar Khan has the title role, as Al Gurvis; he's utterly convincing and hugely likable as this big galoot of a guy with big dreams. Bobby Moreno is hilarious as his pal Barry, who may be an electrician but is definitely not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. Lauren Hines strikes a nice balance as Eileen, showing us the always-on-duty realtor side of her personality as well as more vulnerable traits that give the play its emotional weight. Malcolm Madera and Gabriel Gutierrez are very funny in smaller roles as, respectively, Daniel and Jose.
At Play, in association with Old Vic New Voices, have presented Al's Business Cards in a deftly economical production that emphasizes the script and, with Keating at the helm, provides the quick pacing it requires. The 70 minutes of the play fly by and before you know it, the chain of events kind-of closes and the happy, heightened slice of life is over with. Playwright Koenigsberg is, the program tells us, a farmer in the "off season." We'll be keeping an eye on him, because, with all due respect to the chickens and cows and so on, he seems like just the kind of artist the theatre needs all year round.