Review by Kathleen Campion
Buzzer at the Public is one of those plays that grows on you. It is slow to begin. It seems a simple story with an odd name. The buzzer of the title refers to the door buzzer for a fancy apartment in an emerging neighborhood that doesn’t work—a heavy-handed metaphor for what’s not working upstairs and outside as Jackson, Suzy, and Don move into a really nice apartment in what, very recently, has been a very tough place to live.
Two men—one black and up from the tough streets that surround them; one white, the entitled child of privilege—bond in prep school. Jackson (Grantham Coleman), the black kid, now an over-achieving Harvard-trained lawyer and his white girlfriend, Suzy (Tessa Ferrer), move into the amazing apartment Jackson’s purchased in that once-dodgy, now-edgy neighborhood he’d fled. Soon, Don (Michael Stall-David), the white kid, now a recovering addict, moves in too, over Suzy’s objections.
It is interesting to see the black male character as the achiever and the rich white kid as the screw up. It is interesting to see Suzy, harassed on the street because of her color and incongruity in the neighborhood, try to tough it out. She hides all that from Jackson because she fears, correctly, that he will react badly. It is interesting that the addict is the one who sees Suzy victimized and moves to protect her, however ineffectually.
Playwright Tracey Scott Wilson keeps “pulling our coat” suggesting things do change but not fast and not as you might expect. Jackson doesn’t fit into this neighborhood now any better than Suzy does. He’s blind to it; she’s victimized by it. Don, who’s been searching for answers since they were all teenagers still doesn’t have any; he’s all empathy and annoying chatter. And Michael Stahl-David gives us a rich version of that guy.
Wilson asks a lot of the audience. The dialogue, while credible, doesn’t sparkle. It is a play of ideas that you must take home and think about. I’d wish for more passion on the stage. One thought—two young men engaged with one young woman—in close quarters and surrounded by danger—ought to generate some heat, but there is a remarkable lack of sexual tension. There is one very odd shag—but no credible heat.
As I said at the top, Buzzer does grow on you. I’m glad I saw it. But here’s the thing. At the end of the performance it was the set that jumped out as the most obvious success here. And, while Laura Jellinek’s set is remarkably flexible, evocative, and cleverly layered, that can’t be good.
By Tracey Scott Wilson; directed by Anne Kauffman
WITH: Grantham Coleman (Jackson), Brett J. Diggs (Brian), Tessa Ferrer (Suzy), Michael Stahl-David (Don).
Designed by Laura Jellinek; costume design by Clint Ramos; lighting by Matt Frey; sound by Bray Poor; fight design by J. David Brimmer; production stage manager Buzz Cohen.
Presented by the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan. Runs through April 26th.