Theater Review - The Commons of Pensacola (NY)

Sarah Jessica Parker a standout in “The Commons of Pensacola.” Amanda Peet is a popular movie and TV actress who is a first time playwright. Because of her connections, without waiting too long she was able to put together a first-rate cast, directed by none other than the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Artistic Director Lynne Meadow, and have her work, “The Commons of Pensacola” debut at the NY City Center Stage 1! There are many who are criticizing her for this; but I found this exploration of a current topic quite interesting. You remember Bernie Madoff, the criminal who took everyone’s money through phony investments? Well, this is a study of what happens to a family like his who are left to pick up the pieces of their ruined lives. The characters here are familial: There’s Judith, the wife, mother and grandmother, played by the always-lovely Blythe Danner. Judith, a prisoner of pills and newly-discovered poverty, has been relegated to live in a shabby condo in Florida. So shabby the sliding glass door to the patio and ocean front does not open. (I kept thinking they could have had Ed Asner come in to fix it—but in that play, “Grace,” he was the bug man!) She is currently being helped by her daughter, Becca, the excellent Sarah Jessica Parker, who with every turn and twist of her body makes us feel her pain. Becca, 43, has stood by her mom’s side, and is now dating Gabe, 29 (Michael Stahl-David); she is impoverished and is constantly recognized as the criminal’s daughter. With Gabe, she has signed a contract with a TV production company to make a video of her mother and her struggles. When Judith hears this from Gabe, she is properly outraged and kicks him out. Unfortunately, at that moment, Judith falls, hits her head and is saved by Gabe who gets her to the hospital. Judith is also aided by Lorena, a maid depicted by Nilaja Sun. Although she does a good job, it is sad to see a young woman of her vast talents in such an insignificant part-she wrote a solo piece, “No Child…” which garnered 21 major awards. We look forward to her newest piece, “Pike St.” Judith’s other daughter, Ali, has had nothing to do with her mother, but flies down when she is injured. She is furious that her mom has squirreled away money—and searches for it in vain. A visit from Ali’s daughter, Lizzy, a foul-mouthed sixteen year old, causes the most trouble. Her hopping into bed with Gabe destroys several relationships. Yet from what we perceive at the end, Judith and Becca unite in a positive way. “The Commons of Pensacola” is kind of a misnomer- they are not all from Pensacola! 88 minutes is not long enough to really develop the characters. But Amanda Peet has introduced us to them and perhaps next time, we will find out what happened to them. At New York’s City Center.

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