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A CurtainUp Review
Crossing Brooklyn

You think it happened yesterday, last week, last month, last year.
It's always happening.
Over a thousand, thousand years.
Always happening.
In the air. Everywhere.
Jenny Fellner and Bryce Ryness in Crossing Brooklyn
Jenny Fellner and Bryce Ryness in Crossing Brooklyn (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Transport Group has a well-deserved reputation for tackling challenging subjects. Previous seasons included a world premiere (John Cariani's cul-de-sac), a groundbreaking musical (Yvonne Adrian, Cheryl Stern and Tom Kochan's Normal) and an innovative revival (Thornton Wilder's Our Town). So it's not surprising that their newest project, Crossing Brooklyn, a musical with book and lyrics by Laura Harrington and music by Jenny Giering, takes on one of the most sensitive issues of our time: the aftereffects of 9/11.

Jack Cummings III directs a cast of actors, some of whom play multiple or ensemble parts, in an ambitious show that attempts to reach almost operatic proportions in a staging that has both classical and innovative elements. The setting is Brooklyn and Manhattan. The time is spring 2002. But Des (Jenny Fellner), a New York City public school teacher, is still filled with the fear and anxiety engendered by the attack on the Twin Towers. She cannot go back to her old job, or even go far from the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her husband, AJ (Bryce Ryness), also a public school teacher. The furthest she gets is a nearby park, where she works.

AJ wants to be supportive and understanding, but he is frustrated by Des's inability to get her life back in order. He repeatedly urges her to sign a new contract and go back to school. He's not the only one.

Bobby (James F. Williams), who runs a local café with Jimmy (Ken Triwush), reminds Des, "Everybody's talking about getting back to normal." And two elderly birdwatchers Des meets in the park, Olive and Beryl (the delightful duo, Susan Lehman and (Kate Weiman respectively), warn Des that the school won't hold her spot forever, she'd better sign the contract. But Des has to conquer her own demons before she can rejoin society.

In the meantime, AJ finds himself attracted to Madeline (Blythe Gruda), the school librarian, who offers a tempting alternative to his troubled and distant wife. He also takes a special interest in one of his students, Kevin (the too cute and clever J. Bradley Bowers), a precocious middle-schooler who lost both parents on 9/11.

One other character in the play is Travis (Clayton Dean Smith), a homeless, psychotic Vietnam vet, whose role probably has something to do with redemption, but is never made sufficiently clear.

The real reason for Des's post-9/11 anxiety is only revealed toward the end of the play. And when this happens, the audience is totally unprepared, which mitigates the effectiveness of what might have been a very moving scene.

In fact it's on an emotional level that Crossing Brooklyn is least successful. Sandra Goldmark's austere set and Cumming's choreographed blocking, along with the chorus's commentary give the play a Brechtian distance that just doesn't work in this instance. Although Crossing Brooklyn is head and shoulders above the sentimental 9/11 claptrap we are sometimes subjected to, one wishes the playwright and director had found some way of engaging the audience on a more personal level and made the characters more likable and moving.

The symbolic crossing of Brooklyn Bridge at the end of the play is rendered with visual perfection by cables drawn down and across the stage. But the moment is marred by lengthy and repetitive song that is not saved by Fellner and Ryness's strong and beautiful voices.

Giering gives too many of the 24 musical numbers an excess of nervous energy and too few the kind of tenderness only melody can supply. Sometimes songs appear in scenes that would be better served by dialogue which goes deeper than "How can he leave me here like this? How can I leave her here like this? Do I stay? Do I go? Do I run? Does she know?" Crossing Brooklyn tries to remove sentimentality from 9/11 through an abstract, experimental treatment. It may be that it is just too early for such an attempt. Or it may be that Giering and Harrington need to find another way to tell their story.

Editor's Note: Below are links to reviews of previous Transport Group productions. For a young company, a remarkable majority of these have struck us as outstanding. Even the few that didn't hit all the bases, reflected the company's willingness to take chances.
Our Town
The Audience
Requiem For William
First Lady Suite
Our Town
All the Way Home
The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
Book and Lyrics by Laura Harrington
Music by Jenny Giering
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Cast: Jenny Fellner (Des); Bryce Ryness (AJ); Blythe Gruda (Madeline); Clayton Dean Smith (Travis); J. Bradley Bowers (Kevin); Susan Lehman (Olive); Kate Weiman (Beryl); Ken Triwush (Jimmy); Jason F. Williams (Bobby)
At the Piano/Conductor: Brian J. Nash
At the Cello: Summer Boggess
At the Bass: Arnold F. Gottlieb
At Percussion: Charles Kiger
At Guitar: Laurent Medelgi
Scenic Design: Sandra Goldmark
Lighting Design: R. Lee Kennedy
Costume Design: Shana Alberry
Sound Design: Michael Rasbury
Musical Staging: Scott Rink
Musical Director: Brian J. Nash
Orchestrations: Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Running Time: 95 min., no intermission
Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th St. between avenues A & B
From 10/19/07; opening 10/28/07; closing 11/28/07
Wednesday thru Saturday and Monday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $38 or (212) 352-3101
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 27, preview

Every Day a New Day/AJ/Des
Everything's Gonna Be All Right/AJ, Chorus
Over the Edge/Can't Breathe/Chorus
I Think About It All the Time/Des
Off the Map/The Wrong Guy/Chorus, Madeline
Turn to Me/AJ, Madeline
If I Could Escape/AJ
Weed, Weed, Weed/Chorus
Imagine That/Des
Over the Edge/Scraps of Paper/Chorus
Everybody Says/Chorus
Reprise: Turn to Me/AJ
Common Little Catechism/Des
Don't Let Me Go/AJ, Des
AJ on the Subway/AJ/Chorus
What If?/AJ/Madeline
Reprise: Scraps of Paper/Chorus
Reprise: Everybody Says/Chorus
First Grade/Des
If I'm Honest With You/Kevin
Four Square Blocks/Find Me/AJ, Chorus
Talk to Me/Des, AJ
Brooklyn Bridge/First Step/Des, AJ, Chorus

The  Playbill Broadway YearBook
The Playbill Broadway YearBook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


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