New York Times, Jason Zinoman, October 19, 2006
Stories of Neighborhoods Take On an Epic Proportion
At more than five hours, "Tale of 2Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks" may sound a bit long, but by the unusual standards of its playwright, Heather Woodbury, it's positively succinct.
Her last show, "What Ever: An American Odyssey in Eight Acts," was twice the length, running 10 hours, making it the kind of play seen by dedicated fans and people with lots of free time. Once again, Ms. Woodbury has built a sweet and sweeping play with breathtaking range: you meet the living and the dead, characters from two coasts in a time period that spans from 1941 to 2001. What's more, she displays the ambition of an artist who is not afraid to make an audience work for its rewards -- and trust me, there are many.
The show is produced in two sections that alternate performances at Performance Space 122. Staged by Dudley Saunders with downtown minimalism, "Tale of 2Cities," composed mostly of monologues, examines the titanic (and traumatic) effects of the Dodgers' leaving Brooklyn. "That was like the beginning of the end for me," says an older police detective (played movingly by Ed Vassallo). "The neighborhood feeling died at that point."
The plotline brings to mind the current controversy over the Atlantic Yards, the new complex that proposes to bring major-league sports to Brooklyn, along with increased traffic and a new skyline of towers. But it's characteristic of Ms. Woodbury's evenhanded approach that people on both sides of the Atlantic Yards debate can find ammunition here.
Just as the play dramatizes how a sports team can unite a town, it also tells the more obscure story of how a Mexican-American barrio in Los Angeles was destroyed by the creation of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Using these two interconnected events, Ms. Woodbury lays the groundwork for a complex meditation on loss that may be shorter than her last show but weighs more heavily on your mind.
Until now, Ms. Woodbury was primarily a solo artist, performing all her own characters, morphing from ravers to uptown ladies with a gesture. As impressive as this was, such conspicuous displays of ability can turn the audience's attention from the subject matter and toward the performer. In "Tale of 2Cities," she uses an ensemble cast for the first time, and the result is that it's much easier to suspend your disbelief.
It also helps that there are some superb performances. The precision and specificity of Tracey A. Leigh's characters, including a frenetic girl who is suspected of murder, make an argument for giving the actress her own solo show. Leo Marks, who took over for John C. Reilly (after he withdrew because of scheduling conflicts), gives a soulful performance as a Dodgers-loving cabby -- even if he sounds a little like a burned-out Jim Ignatowski from "Taxi."
Ms. Woodbury does play several parts, including the intricately drawn Miriam, a New York activist who lived in Los Angeles in the 1940's and 50's before the dissolution of her marriage to a man who came out of the closet. "It reminds me of the feel and the smell in the air after a grand show of fireworks," she says of the break-up. "The explosions are spent, the sulfur dispersed."
After moving back to New York, Miriam was the victim of a seemingly racially motivated attack that took place around the Ebbets Field housing projects. The plot becomes about the search for the killer and the resulting media storm. Before a detour into the events of Sept. 11, Ms. Woodbury shows off some of her most satirical writing, including a hilarious send-up of leftist radio.
Like with any sprawling novel, the play hits some slow patches, and its structure seems at times to be willfully muddled. But stick with it: one of the pleasures of the show is how Ms. Woodbury weaves disparate tales together. Zipping around space and time to provide a portrait of the ripple effect of the exodus of the Dodgers, the play provides a bird's-eye view of the world that at its best convinces you that anything else is an incomplete story.