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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 27, 2024

Ana Villafañe and Holland Taylor
Photo by Daniel Rader
Tonight, even as the theatrical face-off between presidential candidates Joseph Biden and Donald Trump is unfolding on television, another political theatrical event is opening at an actual theater. Up to you to decide which is the more engrossing. But for my money, unless something thoroughly unanticipated occurs during the former, I'll take the latter, N/A, at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. There, for 80 minutes (10 minutes shorter than the time that has been allotted for that other kerfuffle), two exceptional women, both Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives, circle one another, argue, and occasionally try to find common ground.

N/A's playwright Mario Correa says of the work that it has been "heavily researched and lightly imagined." It certainly feels that way, with its fly-on-the-wall view of the pairing of and occasional headbutting between longtime congressional superstar "N" (as in Nancy Pelosi) and blazing newcomer "A" (as in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). The sense of authenticity is aided to a prodigious degree by whip-cracking, razor-sharp performances by Holland Taylor as N, delivering both calm self-assuredness and subtle sarcasm with pitch-perfect timing, and Ana Villafañe as A, offering scorching indictments of "the system" with the fervency of an evangelical Fury. Another highflying woman, Diane Paulus, directs, as the old school West Coast liberal goes head-to-head with the Gen Y East Coast firebrand.

Not sure why the actual names are not in use ("N/A" as is "Not Applicable" is simply not applicable here) since the two embody the actual women so closely you'll know who they are on sight. The illusion is nicely complemented by Myung Hee Cho's costumes, which put N in a matching magenta skirt and jacket and "power pumps," and A in a black pantsuit and matching black heels.

The play itself is broken into several short scenes and covers the period from 2019 to just past the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol. Mostly these take place in N's office. There they meet initially for a pro forma visit on A's first day in office, which she is excitedly livestreaming via her cell phone to her many followers while N (both patiently and impatiently) observes and waits through this breach of protocol for her to finish. But for all of her newbie naivete, it becomes quickly obvious that A has an agenda that is rooted in a deep commitment to the cause of social justice, even if she does not share N's views about the practical nature of being a legislator and what it takes to cobble together the requisite number of votes to make things happen.

These are the two sides to much of the play, in which people with similar values struggle and mostly fail to see eye-to-eye. And even though audience members are unlikely to be surprised by the stances of each of the two, it is the personalities and the beautifully crafted and performed interplay between them that makes N/A such a pleasure to watch.

This is true whether the context is about the politics of leadership, the search for a mutual approach to problem-solving, the art of compromise, or what it means to be a woman within the hallowed halls of Congress. And since both the real N and the real A remain in office, having won their respective primary elections in districts that are almost certain to reinstate them in November, this is a story that will continue to unfold in a variety of possible ways, dependent on the much bigger election picture that will manifest itself at the same time.

Through August 4, 2024
Lincoln Center, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 W 65th St, New York NY
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