Tales From The Tunnel
nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
August 17, 2009
In cooking, there is much to be said for the virtue of a simple recipe, precisely executed, with a handful of good quality ingredients. Tales From The Tunnel, written and smartly directed by Troy Diana and James Valletti, is a fantastic example of this principle as applied to theatre. They have taken the straightforward idea of telling stories from people's experiences on the New York City subway system and executed it with artful simplicity and masterful precision. No element feels out of place; this piece is beautifully tight.
Starting with the raw material of over 150 stories collected from a wide range of individuals, Diana and Valletti have crafted a cohesive and recognizable representation of the New York City subway, and thus implicitly a convincing microcosm of the city as a whole. New characters continue to appear over the course of the show, but we are treated to enough familiar faces—both following up on their previous stories and appearing as incidental characters in each other's—that the world is consistent, capturing New York's paradoxical nature of feeling both limitless and tiny. Diana and Valletti avoid the potential pitfall of monotony in a monologue-based show by continually playing with staging conventions throughout in a way that keeps the presentation of text feeling fresh without becoming gimmicky.
The ensemble cast is fantastic across the board, effortlessly and fluidly jumping among a wide range of characters. These transitions are deftly negotiated through the minimal means necessary, be it through an accent, a single costume piece, or simply a change in posture. Carla Corvo in particular stands out for her ability to negotiate these radical leaps of character with apparent ease.
With regard to design, again, just enough is given to the audience to provide specificity and familiarity, without it feeling overly clever. Paul Miller's elegant and professional lighting design provides the perfect complement to Anastasia Amelchakova's fantastic and simple set of metal folding chairs painted in recognizable shades of alternating orange and yellow. Jess Bauer's sound design of well-chosen music and familiar noises wonderfully ties the whole space together.
In a downtown theatre scene filled with great intentions marred by inconsistent execution, it is wonderful and too rare to see a piece wherein it feels as though everyone involved is working on the same show. Every choice made—directing, acting, and design—feels specific, intentional, and mindful of its larger context. This dramaturgical consistency, combined with the familiarity of the material, leads to a truly enjoyable theatrical experience which anyone who has ever ridden the New York subway would take pleasure in.