I saw "What Did You Expect?"

I saw “What Did You Expect?” off-Broadway at the Public Theater on Lafayette in NYC.

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What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots, gray mid-rise straight-legged jeans, black Lilith tank, black ATM cotton blouse, black Helmut Lang loose-knit sweater, gray and lime green Marimekko scarf, eye-makeup, ponytail, a look of bewilderment.

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What I did beforehand: took a MetroNorth train to Grand Central, went to the dentist for that bad news, looked at my favorite Baby Jesus at the Morgan Library, ate, walked, counted the unsmiling people on Park Avenue (57 out of 60), talked to a guy with a dog named Barry (who did not give me high-five), arrived early at the theater, discovered I’d bought two tickets, called The Graduate to try to convince him to join me. 

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Who went with me: 160 white strangers.

How I got tickets: online, with a member’s discount.

Why I saw this show: it’s the second part of the Gabriels play cycle: election year in the life of one family, by Richard Nelson. Part one was “Hungry,” and my favorite play so far this year.

Where I sat: Row B seat 103, between an empty seat and a couple who knew the women behind me actors who’ve been friends since they met in a play where they were the only women in the cast, back in 1979. One of them misremembered the name of the man as “Donald,” and had to tell him twice that it was all on account of politics. 

Things that were sad: I think I expected to like this play as much as the first of the cycle. But I didn’t. It had all the same elements: the same set, the same actors, the same playwright.  It had similar moments of great poignancy. But it didn’t sock me in the jaw with its verisimilitude, as the first had. It would be almost impossible to have done. So it will have to come in second place, behind the first. And, of course, I can hardly wait for the third and last play in the cycle, to open in November. 

Things that were funny: I objected to the way one character cut onions.

Things that were not funny: there is a man running for President of the United States of America with the full backing of one of our two main political parties that is overtly and proudly xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, tax-avoiding, bankruptcy-exploiting, fat-bashing, inarticulate, unprepared, unqualified, ungrammatical, and mean-spirited. And we have to take him seriously. 

What it is: a play, lasting one hour and forty-five minutes, without intermission. It features actors cooking and kitchen-table story-telling with some well-timed cussing, covering themes of economic inequality and the quiet desperation and loneliness of modern life. It includes a master class on script-writing, props and costuming, and features a cast of actors so subtle and real and honest in their performances that they tower above almost every other cast currently performing in New York. 

Who should see it: anyone who missed “Hungry.” Anyone who should have seen “Hungry.” Aspiring playwrights. Residents of Rhinebeck, New York. 

What I saw on the way home: it was very late. I stepped off the train with a chatty woman wearing a colorful scarf who wanted to go together to our cars. We had parked in different lots, and each of us had to walk alone. 

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