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One November Yankee

Also see Sharon's review of The Morini Strad


Harry Hamlin and Loretta Swit
Joshua Ravetch's One November Yankee is a play for two performers and an airplane. In the NoHo Arts Center world premiere production, that's Harry Hamlin, Loretta Swit, and a two-seater yellow Piper Cub. The actors play three different brother/sister pairs as we follow the story of the plane through three critical scenes: when it crashed in the woods of New Hampshire, carrying siblings on their way to a wedding; when the wreck was discovered, five years later, by a pair of hikers; and, two days later (this part of the timeline doesn't quite work), when the crumpled plane is displayed by an artist and his sister as a new piece of modern art. The stories are not told in chronological order; two scenes in the museum bookend the crash and the plane's discovery.

The best of the three scenes, and indeed the reason to see this play, is the third scene, in which a hiking brother and sister happen upon the wreckage. The initial dialogue (which has a lot of "Holy shit"s in it) gives way to something more personal. As the scene unfolds, we learn that the brother and sister suffered a family tragedy many years back. Discovering the plane triggers the difficult memory, and ultimately leads to some level of catharsis. Ravetch's writing is at its best here; the lines ring true as honest, human reactions to grief and how to process it. The acting is at its best here, too. Swit and Hamlin aren't trying to put on the overblown personas of movers in the New York art scene or the unfortunately-accented Jewish intellectuals of the plane crash. They're just playing people who are tied together by the bonds of family and forced by circumstances to have a discussion they probably should have had years ago. There's a touching truth to this scene; it could very nearly stand on its own.

The art gallery scenes, though, add something—levity, at the very least. Hamlin is surprisingly effective as the flamboyant artist; Swit somewhat less so as his scattered sister, afraid that the exhibit, which even she doesn't understand, will be a bomb with the critics. (Swit stumbled on some of her lines at the performance reviewed, which may have been part of the problem.) Here, as throughout the play, Ravetch creates a completely believable sibling relationship—these characters have known each other long enough to push each other's buttons; they aggravate each other almost as a matter of course, but with genuine affection beneath. And the final gallery scene, in which we learn the fate of the exhibit with the critics, is nicely done, pulling together threads which you might not have noticed were there.

The rest of the play, though, is problematic. The gallery opener, while necessary to lay the groundwork, is way overlong. The crash scene feels implausible in many respects, starting with the explanation of the crash itself. More than that, after the play is done, if you really think through the course of events which had to have occurred in order for the wreckage to be found as it was found, when it was found, it is hard to reconcile that with the characters as we know them.

Ravetch, who also directs, does a tidy job of switching between comedy and tragedy, especially when this happens within a single line. Overall, though, One November Yankee (the title refers to the plane's tail number) feels less like a unified whole and more like three different plays of varying quality.

One November Yankee runs at the NoHo Arts Center through January 5, 2013. For tickets and information, see www.nohoartscenter.com.

NoHo Arts Center presents a NoHo Arts Center Ensemble production. One November Yankee by Joshua Ravetch. Set Design Dana Moran Williams; Lighting Design Luke Moyer; Costume Design Kate Bergh; Sound Design Jeff Gradner; Directed by Joshua Ravetch.

Cast:
Loretta Swit - Maggie, Margo, Mia
Harry Hamlin - Ralph, Harry, Ronnie


Photo: Robert Arbogast


- Sharon Perlmutter



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