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A CurtainUp Review
Dancing on Nails

You know, when I sit here and listen to you practicing, I think 'This girl has a really beautiful voice. People oughtta hear this girl.' 'She's that good?', someone might ask. 'This girl ain't just nothing,' I'd say. 'This girl is something. This girl is wonderful!— Sam
Dancing on Nails
Peter Van Wagner
(Photo credit: Marina Levitskaya)
The image of dancing on nails is not pretty. It speaks of self-inflicted injuries and the transformation of something that should be pleasurable into something painful. It is the perfect title for Paul Manuel Kane's new play, directed by Allen Lewis Rickman.

Kane's drama brings us back to 1953. World War II is not yet a distant memory and the Civil Rights Movement is barely on the horizon. Sam Heisler (Peter Van Wagner) is the Jewish owner of a hardware store in Greenwich Village. Beyond the store he has no life. He seems to dream about nails and saws.

Then he hires Natalie Washington (Jazmyn Richardson), a young, black aspiring opera singer, to work in his store, and everything changes. Sam is impressed with Natalie's dedication to her art. He becomes interested in opera ... and Natalie, even though she is not only of a different race and religion (she is Catholic) but also thirty years his junior.

Sam's closest relatives are his cousin Rose Levitt (Lori Wilner) and her husband Joe (Michael Lewis), a veteran who still bears the psychological scars of war. They live in the basement apartment of a building Sam owns. Rose and Joe are childless. Rose wants to adopt, but Joe doesn't want to raise another man's child. Even when Joe finally relents, the couple's lack of money is an unsurmountable obstacle, unless Rose can get her cousin to give them $15,000, an enormous sum at the time.

Rose is desperate for Sam's help. But her fear of a relationship between him and Natalie seems to trump her obvious desire to please her cousin. Determined to put a stop to her Sam's plans, she takes (not entirely believable) action.

If all this seems a bit complicated, it's actually a simplification. There are several scenes that seem to have little to do with the plot: Joe discusses his wartime experiences with an invisible psychiatrist; Natalie tells her grandmother (also invisible) that some men have harassed her on the way home.

Curiously, the best performance is delivered by Lauren Klein, who plays the annoying neighbor, Luba Fogel, a character that could easily have been left out of the play. If Klein rises above her stereotypical character the other actors do not.

Yet despite uneven acting and a less than perfect script, there's something engaging about Dancing on Nails. Richardson, who is making her professional debut, is sincere and innocent, if unsteady in her acting. And Wagner is true to type, even if its a stereotype.

But in the end, the play's lack of focus is confusing. Is the playwright telling us to seize happiness and not let the prejudices of others interfere, or not to let ourselves be fooled by desperate delusions? Kane, who is a a retired English teacher, seems to be trying to teach us something. The question is what?

Dancing On Nails
By Paul Manuel Kane
Directed by Allen Lewis Rickman
Cast: Peter Van Wagner (Sam Heisler), Lauren Klein (Luba Fogel), Lori Wilner (Rose Levitt), Michael Lewis (Joe Levitt), Jazmyn richardson (Natalie Washington), George Spelvin (Waiter, etc.)
Scenic Design: Vicki R. Davis
Costume Design: Gail Cooper-Hecht
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place (just west of First Ave.)
From 7/10/13; openning 7/24/13; closing 8/29/13
Wednesdays at 3 & 7pm, with special Thursday matinees at 3pm
Tickets are $55 and are available through
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 17, 2013
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