Cara Russo (Kristen Bush) teaches at a high school in privileged Stillwell, Massachusetts, but lives with her daughter Angela (Casey Whyland who creates a disconnect by looking much too old for the role) across the river in blue collar Patchett. She’s a struggling single mother living from paycheck to paycheck. Dedicated to her vocation and morally principled, Cara is appalled when Kevin O’Neill (Rick Holmes), well heeled father of Connor (John Kroft), tries to bribe her into raising his son’s grade.
Kevin wants Cara on in his side for an upcoming vote which will determine whether the two towns combine school districts, offering opportunity to less fortunate kids. (How likely is this?) He prefers his town unsullied. Money on the desk seems counter-productive to achieving complicity. Nor does it help that the private equity manager comes off as a persistent purveyor of snake oil, but who doesn’t want to get rich quick? who doesn’t want to best support his kids?
Rick Holmes, Jordan Lage, Meredith Forlenza, Kristen Bush, Laura Kai Chen
Red herring dialogue implies Kevin is out to seduce the attractive teacher, yet he informs her (and us) he’s gay. Director Doug Hughes purposefully? compounds the confusion making speech and action so full of sexual innuendo, we keep waiting for the character to flip.
With ulterior motive in mind, Kevin invites Cara to his home for a (regularly held) “party” i. e. meeting of like-minded investors whose money he controls in a small fund. Welcoming regulars include Geoff Hossmer (Jordan Lage), Pamela Hossmer (Meredith Forlenza) and Alice Tuan (Laura Kai Chen.) The financier convinces Cara she doesn’t have to have much to start and that the difference in income will change her life. She will, of course, also owe him.
Rick Holmes and Casey Whyland
Not fully understanding the risks (vernacular is well researched), Cara succumbs. Kevin then ingratiates himself into her life and Angela’s with single minded dedication. When questioned (wouldn’t you?), he declares that what he’s doing makes up for making unworthy clients richer. When met by resistance, he respectively asks “What’s it like to sell yourself short?” and “Tell me you want mediocrity.” Ouch. Cara at first does so well, thought of moving across the river so that the very bright Angela will have a springboard to a private college seems achievable.
Roxanna Hope Radja and Kristen Bush
Two points of view are against what Cara sees as upward mobility: Friend Cathy (Roxanna Hope Radja), who defends the values and culture of her community, bristling in the face of Cara’s burgeoning snobbery, feels sure a move will sever their relationship. Angela has her own very personal, teenage reasons for not wanting to change schools.
There’s so much here that sounds improbable, the well written script only intermittently lands even though its issues are topical. Who really gains and who loses when schools are integrated as suggested here? How do the kids cope?
Kristen Bush and Rick Holmes
Kristen Bush is spot on with her portrayal of Cara. We’re with her throughout. It’s a credit to Rick Holmes (Kevin) that we’re often drawn to his arguments while wanting to back up and/or wash our hands. Roxanna Hope Radja creates an extremely credible Cathy imbuing both affection and feisty warning with truth.
Director Doug Hughes, expert with realistic dramatization, manifests solid characters in so far as the play allows. Everything that happens is believably staged. Why, one might ask, is Cathy the only one with a distinctly New England accent? (Ben Furey- Dialect Coach)
John Lee Beatty’s revolving Set looks uncharacteristically stripped down. Though furniture economically differs, there’s little that’s personal in either household and nothing on like walls. The designer does, however, give us an innovative corridor between the two, allowing view of after scene reactions.
The obscure title refers to a passage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in which a young, ambitious man literally rows out to a yacht to take fate in his own hands.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Rick Holmes and Kristen Bush
Manhattan Theatre Club presents
Dan Cody’s Yacht by Anthony Giardina
Directed by Doug Hughes
Through July 8, 2018
New York City Center Stage I 131 West 55th Street