Women’s Project Theater says that The Architecture of Becoming was inspired by the improbable and dynamic history of New York City Center. I cannot speak of what inspires a writer, but this play is certainly not about New York City Center. It is performed in the magnificent Moorish Revival building, but it is presented in one of the small, intimate, modern, theaters downstairs. We do not get to revel in, or become ourselves inspired by, the grandeur and ornate beauty of the Oriental palace now known as New York City Center. This was a disappointment to me, and although I appreciate that the play lends itself better to an intimate space, they could have presented it upstairs and just used the center orchestra for seating. I might then have felt the presence of her ghosts and spirits that are summoned in the opening moments of the play.
The Architecture of Becoming is about the need and longing to belong somewhere, to be let in, appreciated by New York City itself. The question, “Where is the city center?”, is asked many times throughout the play. Sadly, these dreamers never find New York’s center, or find it, only to discover they are not a part of it. The center they are searching for is maybe on the stage at “high-end shows” performed in New York City Center; maybe in the high-rise glamorous buildings of Manhattan, but not, as one character says, “in Bed-Stuy” or section-8 housing in Alphabet City.
We enter the theater space and the play has already begun. On the doors representing New York City Center is projected the silent film, The Sheik, 1921, produced by Famous Players-Lasky, whose movie studio was on the lot where City Center now stands. The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, AKA Shriners, bought the lot in 1924 and built their Mecca Temple in the lavish Moorish Revival style. For a brief period in the 1930’s the building was home to The Mecca Temple Casino, and then eventually fell into the hands of the city itself. In 1943 our illustrious Mayor Fiorello La Guardia anointed the building as, New York City Center of Music and Drama.
The play is performed by five very skilled and versatile actors playing multiple roles. The play has lovely poetic language and moments, along with humor and whimsy, and the actors all flow gracefully and intelligently in and out of the various tones. I would run to see any one of these actors in future work, and they make this production dance in spite of it’s disjointed aspects.
Five writers, three directors, and five producers may be why I could not find a link between these characters and New York City Center. Wanting so hard to find a connection, I researched the building itself to see if, like these characters, it was not accepted, maybe considered for demolition, but I found nothing. The play is more about the dreamers who come to New York City, and the city itself, than it is about the building. Our city as a seductress and a harsh mistress is a cliché, but it is true. And the city’s promise, and anonymity is what draws many here. Architecture of Becoming shares small slices of the lives of some of the New Yorkers that make our city so vital. I was interested in the tales of struggling artists, people escaping internment camps and the boredom of the plains, the fury and rage of the invisible disenfranchised poor, and I wanted more of their stories, but not in a play about New York City Center. I, like the characters searching for the city center, could not find City Center in a play that purports to be inspired by it. I wanted more of the Grande Dame. I wanted to be in her belly, to hear and feel her sing.
The Architecture of Becoming – written by Kara Lee Corthron, Sarah Gancher, Virginia Grise, Dipika Guha, Lauren Yee; directed by Elena Araoz, Lydia Fort, Lauren Keating
With: Claudia Acosta, Vanessa Kai, Christopher Livingston, Jon Norman Schneider, Danielle Skraastad
Scenic and Lighting Design – Justin Townsend; Sound Design – Elisheba Ittoop;
Costume Design – Kate Fry; Associate Artistic Director – Kate Pines; Producers – Deadria Harrington, Jane Jung, Meropi Peponides, Aktina Stathaki, Lanie Zipoy; Production Stage Manager – Jess Johnston; Production Supervisor – Production Core; Presented by Women’s Project Theater under the direction of Julie Crosby. At New York City Center Stage II, 131 W. 55th St. 212 581-1212, nycitycenter.org, wptheater.org; Through March 23, Running time 85 mins.