A View from 151st Street
nytheatre.com review by Matthew Trumbull
October 14, 2007
Playwright Bob Glaudini elicits a poetry out of street language in his new play A View From 151st Street, the current season's first offering from the oft-gritty LAByrinth Theatre Company. An onstage jazz trio plays interluding howls and beats during set changes, and a projection of Broadway and 151st in all its concrete glory glows at the top of the play before we find ourselves with Delroy (Craig "muMs" Grant), the drug dealer/aspiring rap artist known as "Killer Crisis." Delroy is haggling back and forth with Daniel (Juan Carlos Hernandez) about the details of a planned drug deal to go down that night. In truth, it is a sting, and Daniel is an undercover narcotics cop. Later Delroy invites his friend Dwight in on the action, promising him a cut of the money once he swindles Daniel.
The "N" word is everywhere in these street scenes, used as an address that carries all the variations of nuance and status that a Shakespearean actor could pack into the two words "my lord." The cast brings a Harlem to life that is dignified after a fashion, and authentic without crossing the line into stereotype. Director Peter DuBois brings heart to the scenes inside Daniel's apartment, which contains two spitfire women, his wife Lena (Liza Colón-Zayas) and sister Irene (Elizabeth Rodriguez), as well as his war buddy Ray (Andre Royo), a recovering drug addict struggling to get back on his feet. The apartment also receives two frequent visitors: Ray's girlfriend, a ferocious Russian nurse named Mara (Marisa Malone, hands down the funniest character in the play), and Detective Monroe (Russell G. Jones), Daniel's colleague.
Despite its world of drug dealers, single parents, violence, and rehab, Glaudini's play does go for moments that are heartwarming, hanky-grabbing, and a tad predictable at times. A notable exception, however: After the drug deal falls into catastrophe, Delroy's part in the story seems to unhinge. He wanders the streets, interacting with no one for a great deal of the play, making up rap rhymes. Craig "muMs" Grant does this with an expert flair, but I kept waiting for his character to circle back into the story in a far more satisfying way than he does, considering he is such a major character of the first few scenes.
Without giving too much away, Daniel's sting operation does not go smoothly, as I alluded to earlier. But this is ultimately not a crime or police or drugs story, but a family story. Yet so much time is spent setting up a police-and-drugs crime from the top of the play, that the switch in tone to how this family of individuals gets through a crisis feels unbalanced, and leaves Delroy's character with little to do for much of second act.
The design of the play is excellent, particularly David Korins's highly versatile set and its ability to switch from inside the apartment to a number of outdoor locations. With such fine performances and tough, funny characters, the play is very much worth a viewing, even if the plot does not always stack up.