c/o Plaza Suite
The Plaza Hotel
New York, N.Y.
I’m writing you at the Plaza because it’s the only address I could figure out. I thought with the run Plaza Suite had, you probably spend a lot of time there. Wanted to let you know there’s a new kid — Arnie Reisman. You should look at his work.
He’s got this play, Not Constantinople, playing at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts. That’s on Martha’s Vineyard — that Island where lots of writers and artists live. So it’s not like it’s an easy house to play, you know? And he’s doing good business.
It’s the season opener, running since May 29, and it closes June 20, so maybe you should take a plane. Jet Blue has flights from the city. I’ll dig up the box office number. You being you, I wouldn’t be surprised they duke you a couple upfront.
Anyway, back to the Reisman kid. He does a couple things you’d appreciate. First he uses humor to tell a human story that, at the end of the day, isn’t so funny at all. Sort of like a bonus, you know? You come for the the yucks and you get ’em — one-liners, your witty repartee, and a couple of recurrent sight gags involving car keys and bathrooms.
But you also get what you weren’t expecting — a look at real people wrestling with real-life problems, in this case, growing old in a country and a culture they don’t recognize anymore. In the case of Paul (Damian Buzzerio), that’s literally true. He’s got early-onset Alzheimer’s. He’s also got Lee (Ken Baltin), a very senior hitman, and Stacey (Brianne Beatrice), a bright young hitwoman, looking to put two in his hat. Stacey has an M.B.A., and keeps her killing skills sharp by working days at Goldman Sachs (which Paul immediately recognizes as a department store).
Turns out Paul and his wife, Gloria (Jenny Allen), are living in a senior center in Boca Raton under the federal Witness Protection Program. Paul is waiting to testify against his former employers in the mob, and Lee has been dispatched to quiet Paul, which will also be Lee’s last job before retirement. Stacey, his successor, is there to make sure he gets it done.
The final character is Jack (Christopher Carrick), the U.S. Marshal handling their case. When Jack says, “This is the Witness Protection Program. Protection is our middle name” — and doesn’t realize he’s made a joke — we know our local Dairy Queen has better security than he’s providing.
So, the hitter and the hittee — a couple of crazy old New York kids — hit it off, become squash buds, spend quality bonding time together talking about family values like respect, loyalty and omertà.
You’ll like the dialogue. Reisman writes short, punchy New York rhythms, pretty amazing because he’s from Chicago, which is out past Jersey.
The kid can stitch themes together pretty good. Take the title, based on the song “(Istanbul) Not Constantinople,” written in 1953 after the Turks decided to change the name of their capital. Boom, just like that, after 1,600 years. Hard for people to absorb that much change, to adapt.
And the music. Scenes in Not Constantinople transition with music clips from different eras, ’50s to present day. My personal favorite is the Jim Morrison segue: “No one remembers your name … when you’re strange.” You’re humming it now, right? Evocative. Puts the characters and the audience together through those periods of their lives. Reisman says Director MJ Bruder Munafo gets credit for the music transitions.
Back in Boca, it’s getting to be game time, and we encounter what you might call a conflict of generational value systems. Lee knows Paul flipped to the feds for payback because they unfairly whacked his best friend. That seems right to Lee, so now he doesn’t want to whack Paul. He wants to give him respect. He tells Stacey that by the time Paul testifies, he won’t remember his own name, never mind Mr. Big’s. Stacey is simplistically modern. “Stop thinking. Do your job. He turned. Whack him. And soon,” she tells her mentor.
Now we get to the sweet spot, the part you’re good at, Neil, an honest look at the human condition. After we’ve digested the humor, watched these characters become people we understand and can root for, Reisman’s characters ask us: How do we manage getting old in a world that’s passed us by? How do we live in a world clouded by Alzheimer’s? What are our choices? And does this American society respect and nurture its old people?
Thanks for reading, Neil. Hope you keep the Reisman kid on your radar.
Not Constantinople, written by Arnie Reisman and directed by MJ Bruder Munafo. The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Thursday, June 18, Friday, June 19, and Saturday, June 20, at 7:30 pm. Ticket prices vary; visit vineyardplayhouse.org for details.