By Tulis McCall
You know what I like about David Hyde Pierce??
Pretty much everything.
The Visitor now at the Public Theater (extended through December 5th) is no exception.
Based on the independent film, The Visitor by Thomas McCarthy, this is a story of, not only visitors to this country, but the very idea of being a visitor in one’s own life.
Walter, (Pierce) is in a crisis. Since his wife died, he has been holding on by a thread, teaching a course on economics to students so disinterested that he composes songs in his head to humiliate them – or at least wake them up. Out of desperation he announces a leave of a few days and drives to New York to stay in his apartment. When he arrives he discovers he has visitors: Tarek (Ahmad Maksoud) and Zainab (Alysha Deslorieux) who have rented the apartment from someone named Ivan. Walter does not know Ivan so the story skips over that part. Except it doesn’t. This is New York, folks. Anybody rents my apartment when I am not around, well THAT is the story.
Not in this case. Instead Walter allows the couple to stay, because they seem like nice folks, and where are they going to go anyway? Walter gets pulled into their lives – because he has pretty much given up on the one he had. Tarek is a drummer, and when Walter shows curiosity Tarek offers to teach him. He reminds Walter that drumming is not about thinking, it is about feeling and following your body and the rhythm. This could not be farther from Walter’s comfort zone. He has always been in his head, and to step out past that boundary could mean disaster.
This is where Pierce’s skill shines. Every moment, every look, every hesitation is telegraphed seamlessly with the result that we feel what he is feeling – he is the visitor in his own life now. He embraces this new instrument in his life as well as the people who gather to dance and celebrate. Note – this is a stunning ensemble, and the chorography of Lorin Latarro makes everything click and click and click.
Things come to a screeching halt when Tarek is grabbed by the police for jumping a turn style and put in the custody of ICE. Walter’s attempts to help fall on deaf ears, and once again he is a visitor. This time he is aiding other visitors – people who have come here to work and thrive and contribute.
Out of the blue Tarek’s mother Mouna (Jacqueline Antaramian)arrives at Walter’s door. Another visitor. Although she is not allowed to see her son, she sends messages through Walter. Soon their friendship deepens which makes the unfortunate fate of Tarek even more tragic.
The weakest link here, aside from a story glitch here and there, is the music. Every song is exquisitely delivered, but most do little to move the plot along. Songs of yearning, songs of frustration, songs of joy all tumble into one pot, and like a stew with too many ingredients, the flavor is lost.
The story is not, however, and we do leave with a sad heart that this country continues to kick refugees in the head. The huddled masses can year to be free, but not in our back yard.
The Visitor: Music by Tom Kitt, Lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Book by Kwame Kwei-Armah & Brian Yorkey
WITH Jacqueline Antaramian (Mouna), Robert Ariza (Ensemble), Anthony Chan (Ensemble), Alysha Deslorieux (Zainab), Delius Doherty (Ensemble), C.K. Edwards (Ensemble), Will Erat(Ensemble), Brandon Espinoza(Ensemble), Sean Ewing (Ensemble), Albert Guerzon (Swing), Crystal Joy(Swing), Marla Louissaint(Ensemble), Ahmad Maksoud(Tarek), Sahar Milani(Swing), Dimitri JosephMoïse(Ensemble), Takafumi Nikaido(Ensemble/Drummer), David Hyde Pierce(Walter), Paul Pontrelli(Ensemble), and Katie Terza(Ensemble)
Scenic design by David Zinn; costume design by Toni-Leslie James; lighting design by Japhy Weideman; choreography by Lorin Latarro; sound design by Jessica Paz and Sun Hee Kil; video design by David Bengali and Hana S. Kim; hair, wigs, and make-up designby Matthew Armentrout; prop management by Claire M. Kavanah; fight direction by Thomas Schall; orchestrations by Jamshied Sharifi; music supervision by Meg Zervoulis; music direction by Rick Edinger; and music contracting by Tomoko Akaboshi. James Latus serves as production stage manager.
At the Public Theater. EXTENDED through Sunday, December 5. TICKETS