Theater for the New City, Community Space
155 First Ave. between Ninth & Tenth Sts.
Wednesday - Sunday through April 12, $20
Tom Diriwachter captures the zeitgeist of the borough that never changes, Staten Island, in his involving new play, Great Kills, making its world premiere at Theater for the New City in the East Village. When you first encounter Mark Marcante’s set, you’re likely to think the story takes place in the 1970s, as the appliances in the kitchen are old, the décor static, with books stacked all over the floor, issues of National Geographic strewn about, and an ancient television front and center. But as soon as the TV is turned on and a sportscaster (voiced by director Jonathan Weber, who runs the New York Mets blog The Ballclub) announces that Mets pitcher Jason deGrom is facing Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, it becomes apparent that the time is the present, as characters reach into their past to prepare for the future. Robert Homeyer stars as Tim, a tall, awkward, bearded forty-year-old former adjunct professor now working at a local B&N. An angry and desperate ne’er-do-well, Tim lives with his father, Mr. G (Joey Pantoliano), a gruff, grizzled drunk who’s been a painter at the Meadowbrook state institution for thirty-seven years, but the facility will be closing following a series of investigative reports that depicted it as a “horror show.” (That part of the plot was inspired by Geraldo Rivera’s real-life reporting on Staten Island’s Willowbrook facility.) When Tim finds out that Meadowbrook has apparently discarded a huge amount of cabinets, he decides to take them off their hands and make a fortune reselling them, claiming he’s seen similar items going for eighteen hundred bucks in the Village. So he calls in his childhood friend Robert (Peter Welch), a successful restaurateur, to help with the scheme. Wearing a sharp suit, Robert is suspicious of Tim and the plan, but he’s willing to listen, for reasons that eventually become apparent. And through it all, Mr. G just keeps on drinking and grumbling.
Great Kills is built around a suspect, questionable premise, and although it all makes sense in the end, it works best as a character study of three very different men. The way they interact with one another — Robert with Tim, Tim with Mr. G, Mr. G with Robert — is what drives the play, which features dark humor and gritty, rapid-fire dialogue with clever wordplay from lifelong Staten Islander Diriwachter. Robert: “We’re friends.” Tim: “We are friends.” Robert: “We’ve been friends a long time.” Tim: “We used to ride bikes together.” Robert: “I’d take a bullet for you.” Tim: “I’d . . . wrestle a bear for you.” Robert: “I don’t know why you’d ever have to do that.” Tim: “I’m just saying.” Robert: “But business is business.” Robert is cool and self-confident, Tim edgy and unnerving, Mr. G a grunting widower who serves as comic relief, but each one has surprises in store as the plot unfolds in real time. The Hoboken-born Pantoliano, who won an Emmy for his role as Ralphie Cifaretto on The Sopranos, starred with Rosie Perez on Broadway in Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, and has appeared in such other films as Memento, The Matrix, and Risky Business, is a hoot as Mr. G, just wanting to be left to his baseball and booze. He is practically one with his comfy chair, getting up only to grab another beer or a shot. Indie film actor, writer, and director Welch, who is also a fine art photographer, gives just the right edge to Robert, who keeps hanging around even as the plan gets more complicated. And Theater for the New City regular Homeyer plays Tim as a man uncomfortable in his own skin, believing that the world owes him a whole lot more. It might be Mamet-lite, but this tale of losers, idealists, and never-will-bes is an engrossing look at modern men and the American dream, with a sharp Staten Island tang.