Taxi driver blues

The Last White Cab Driver in New York

Written and directed by Robert Liebowitz
None of the Above Theatre Company
Theatre 22
54 W. 22nd St. ([718] 278-5919)
Non-union production (closes October 10)
Review by Adam Cooper

Theatre has the potential to portray truths of experience that contradict the half-truths and outright lies frequently presented in film and television. Entertainments like the 1980s sitcom Taxi delivered a world full of comic, hapless individuals in feel-good, easily resolved situations. In the play The Last White Cab Driver in New York, author and director Robert Liebowitz offers more genuinely gritty cabdriver life. Unfortunately, the production failed to move beyond the undramatic presentation of realistic experiences.

The three-part play focuses on aging white cabbie Terry Morrissey (Tommy Sturges), moving between a taxi garage and sites in the city. In Part 1, Terry witnesses other cabbies, old and new, many of Asian extraction, expound on the difficulties of being a cabbie. Jerry Lewkowitz ably portrayed Ned, the gruff dispatcher, who fields all the complaints and absorbs all the nutty fare stories. In Part 2, Terry experiences all the hazards of work in the field, from backseat drivers, arguers, and other obnoxious personalities, to abusive inspectors and people who stiff him. Only when an empathetic artist boards his cab is his routine noticeably challenged. In Part 3, Terry returns to the garage to announce he is quitting his job after 11 years of work. Interspersed are backstory-revealing flashback scenes with his insensitive, critical wife (Natalie Swan).

At the center of this flawed production is a first-draft script. Realistic scenarios were presented but did not coalesce into a developing whole. Most characters were thinly defined, apparently existing only to offer different personages in the taxi-driving world. Exposition was revealed about Terry's mid-life crisis but was not substantively internalized into his character, fomenting change. While fellow cabbies, his wife, and his boss all utter comments that cause Terry to reflect, only when he encounters the mysterious artist does Terry's behavior change. The undeveloped brevity of Part 3 leaves Terry's move to quit unexplored and unfulfilling.

Direction was troubled as well. Throughout the play there were palpable moments of dead space. Portrayals came across as under-developed, unoriginal, or gimmicky. Many times the drivers did not physically attempt to recreate the experience of driving a cab. The high-volume traffic of actors' entrances and exits became a distraction.

Still, the play contained a few absorbing vignettes and powerful performances. In addition to the serene, jarring performance of Debra J. Fontaine as his last cab fare, Brad Weigel was hilarious as one of the obnoxious, horny men that use Terry and his cab for prostitution services. Natalie Swan was most effective when she compelled Terry to confront his life. And Whalen J. Laurence was bold and convincing as Jack West, the boss who levels with Terry about the world in which he works.

The functional set design (Brian Griffin) centered on suggestive pieces of a cab and the dispatcher's booth. Lighting (Bob Balogh) adequately set the scenes as the play moved through time and space. The costumes (Diana Chaiken) were rather inspired, interestingly defining the characters by job and cultural background.

(Also featuring Talene Alexander, Lee Baron, Wendy Charles, Susan Rose Cuomo, Lori Eure, Glen M. Jacob, Tracy Lockhart, Ted Montuori, Jeremiah Murphy, Natalio Polit, Rajiv Punja, John Squire, Hope Weiss, Theresa Young, and Oscar Zorrila.)
Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Set: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Adam Cooper