Theater for the New City Presents RIPE, Now thru 10/28
Manhood takes on a very different meaning for baby boomers who waited until middle age to marry. Having committed late in life, they got newborn babies and dying parents at the same time. Such is the situation of the protagonist in "RIPE," a new solo show by playwright/actor/journalist John Jiler, which begins with him on the phone to a pharmacist, ordering three boxes of diapers at the same time: two for his aging parents, and one for his new-born son. The play's about being caught in the middle. Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., will present the piece tonight, October 11 to 28, directed by Sturgis Warner, who staged "Palestine," the widely acclaimed solo show by Najla Saïd (daughter of Edward W. Said) at the Fourth Street Theatre of NY Theatre Workshop in 2010.
Throughout the play, Jiler plays a dozen unforgettable New York characters swirling around his dying, Runyonesque father. They include Irish nurses, pharmacists, psychiatrists, funeral home personnel, and even the ghost of David Niven. They also include his own family: his father and grandfather, his mother and his baby son.
You learn a lot about life being the son of a horseplayer and Jiler's father was not only a gambler, but someone who won big. He adapted the Morning Telegraph concept into a scratch sheet for the commodities markets during the Depression, setting himself up for life with it. He was a stern, opinionated, driven and lucky man with a Jewish heart and an Irish wife. Both families were so bitterly opposed to their match that John's parents had to get married at City Hall and nobody came. (At least at first; John's grandfather arrived late.) This led to a certain amount of denial toward religion in their family life. John's father also bred throroughbreds, which became John's responsibility to manage as the elder Jiler's health waned.
The play primarily recounts John's reactions to the the battles, victories, big risks, stubborn ultimatums and plain old chutzpah of his Father's life--a life which seemed too big to end. Manhood, John finds, is when you are strong enough for the unexpected decisions you have to face when the old horse stumbles and the racetrack of life turns muddy. These include buying the cheap plywood casket over the cherry wood one ("Spend the money on the living," his father always insisted), pulling the plug when you have to, even saying kaddish for the old man even though you never had your own Bar Mitzvah. And doing all that in view of your own son, for which every action is an example.
The play was workshopped at Playwrights Horizons and The Actor's Studio under the title "Cocktails at Schrafft's." Director Sturgis Warner has just entered to the project this month to helm the full production at TNC. Design concepts are in process as of this writing, but it's possible that the audience area in TNC's cabaret theater will be set with divans to give an intimate atmosphere. Jiler may occasionally accompany himself on a keyboard while chatting with the audience. Set design is by Sturgis Warner. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff.
"TNC is a place that will take a chance on emotionally explosive material like this," said Jiler. "I am very grateful."
John Jiler (www.johnjiler.com) is a playwright, actor, novelist and journalist. He received the Richard Rodgers Award and the Kleban Librettists' Award for his accapella musical, "Avenue X" (Playwrights' Horizons and worldwide tour). When it opened in 1994, Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times, "'Avenue X' is not your average 'happy' show; it doesn't wind up on a note of bogus hope. Yet it's bursting with the kind of talent, wit and energy that separate The Living Theater from all entertainment that comes in a can." Jiler's other musical, "Big Red Sun," won the Harold Arlen Award from ASCAP. He was a runner-up for the Weissberger Prize for his first full-length play, "Sour Springs," which was presented by TNC in 1989. His plays have been been seen coast to coast, from the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright's Conference to the Kennedy Center to Seattle Rep and many places in between. He has written seven other plays including a solo show, "Explicit Vows," which was presented by Playwrights Horizons and The Flea Theatre. Jiler's most recent book, "Sleeping With The Mayor," was named a New York Times' "Most Notable Book." His first, "Dark Wind," was deemed a classic by the Village Voice. As a journalist, he has written for the NY Times, The Nation, and the Village Voice (where the stories that led to "Avenue X" and "Sleeping With The Mayor" first appeared). As an actor he appeared at the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Hartford Stage Company, and Chicago's Body Politic, where he won the Chicago Drama Critic's Best Actor Award.